Six Former University Heads Make A Pretty Slim Case Against Chancellor Shirvani


North Dakota’s current university presidents are orchestrating a campaign to push Chancellor Hamid Shirvani out of office, and now they’ve called on a group of former university presidents to help their cause. In a letter sent to the State Board of Higher Education (see below), the presidents say Shirvani is “wrong for North Dakota.”

But why is Chancellor Shirvani wrong for North Dakota? The presidents lay out their case, and it’s not a very good one. Let’s take it point by point, as reported by the Fargo Forum.

They contend that the SBHE has:

– Allowed Shirvani to deprive the board of advice and counsel from its executive leaders.

This one seems a bit ludicrous. Chancellor Shirvani was hired by, and works for, the board itself. If the SBHE isn’t taking advice and counsel from some people they should be, then that’s the board’s decision.

– Approved a chancellor-recommended termination policy for presidents “that guarantees you will not attract many, if any, highly qualified candidates as new presidents except perhaps those whose first love is North Dakota and who are otherwise financially secure.”

The board approved a policy suggested by Shirvani that the university presidents don’t like? First, cry me a river. Second, isn’t that the board’s job? To set higher education policy? Frankly, the compensation packages for the university presidents are obscene. The presidents of the state’s two largest universities make several times what our governor makes, in addition to a lot of other perks. As I understand it, terminating these presidents previously would have required to pay them out up to three years of their salary. That was reduced to one year.

Sounds like exactly the sort of reform our bloated university system ought to be enacting.

– Apparently committed multiple open-meetings violations in the last eight months “at the urging and by arrangement of the chancellor.” Those alleged violations are the subject of a board meeting being held this afternoon.

This is a serious accusation, but the problem lays with the board itself not Shirvani. A report produced by NDUS counsel Claire Hollaway, dated yesterday, finds that the board violated open meetings laws and will have to disclose the agenda and minutes from those meetings. But Shirvani himself, who has no control over how his bosses meet, was guilty of no ‘willful wrongdoing’ according to the report.

Looking over these accusations, you have to wonder who the university presidents really have a problem with. Is it Shirvani, or the board? If you look carefully at these accusations, they’re stemming from decisions the SBHE itself made. Perhaps they were upon the recommendation of Shirvani, but they were approved by the duly-appointed members of the SBHE.

I suspect that, because the university presidents would find it politically untenable to go up against board members who were appointed by Governor Dalrymple and approved by the state legislature, they instead pick on the chancellor.

The problem here isn’t Shirvani. The problem is university presidents who don’t want to be governed, and who want to roadblock reform.

Former presidents' letter