University System Will Only Evaluate Presidents If It's Kept A Secret

Last month I wrote a post about a proposal for legislation being pushed by North Dakota University System Chancellor Larry Skogen and the State Board of Higher Education which would exempt university president evaluations from open records requests. Today a couple of Forum Communications reporters picked up on the story, reporting from the organizational session of the Legislature.

According to the university folks, they don’t feel like they can tell the truth in evaluations of the university presidents unless that truth is a secret from the public.

[NDUS Ethics Officer Murray] Sagsveen said if evaluations are confidential and only presented to the higher education board, the board members can better evaluate those university leaders.

“The concept of that is not to sweep anything under the rug. The concept is to better enable the board of higher education to evaluate the performance of the president,” Sagsveen said.

Skogen said the secrecy of those evaluations are needed to truly evaluate the presidents.

“All of the consultants we have talked to about doing 360s have said that there has to be some sort of privacy to those evaluations, and so if we are going to have true 360s, would the Legislature work with us on that,” Skogen told the board.

It’s a rather shocking admission from these gentleman that nobody in the university system wants to tell the truth about some of the highest paid public officials in the state unless it’s all kept away from the public. That, on its face, should call into question the integrity of those proposing this policy, and their qualifications to serve the public.

But this goes deeper than that. There’s a backstory here.

Skogen’s predecessor, Hamid Shirvani, was asked by the State Board of Higher Education to produce evaluations of the university presidents during his last months in office in 2013. Some of those evaluations were scathing, and requested full job performance reviews.

When the university presidents through a hissy fit to the SBHE  – literally, even going so far as to suggest that my publication of the evaluations here on SAB was illegal – Shirvani was sent packing and Skogen was appointed to replace him. Shirvani was literally placed on early administrative leave for writing negative evaluations of the university presidents.

One of Skogen’s first actions was to throw out Shirvani’s negative evaluations – but only the negative ones – and replace them with perfunctory and uniformly glowing reviews.

Months later, Skogen canceled the performance reviews of the presidents. Now Skogen, Sagsveen and the State Board of Higher Education want any future evaluations of the presidents to be a secret.

It’s almost like we’re still seeing fallout from the Shirvani era. The Presidents not only canned a chancellor they didn’t like, but now the university president appointed to replace Shirvani in the interim is looking to deny the public access to evaluations of university presidents (which Skogen will be again once a the SBHE selects a new chancellor).

According to the Forum Communications article above it seems lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats alike, are skeptical of any move to lock up university system records (Skogen and Sagsveen also want draft audit reports to be kept under wraps, which I don’t find that big of a deal). So this proposal is probably DOA in the Legislature.

Still. You have to admire the chutzpah of these people in even proposing it.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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