Whistleblower Politics Are Effective In North Dakota


I’m beginning to feel a little sorry for North Dakota University System “whistleblower” Linda Porter, a woman who accused embattled Chancellor Hamid Shirvani of manipulating data before a legislative hearing.

How did Shirvani manipulate that data? He compared graduation rates and other data points from North Dakota’s universities to a different set of peer institutions than what Porter (not to mention the university presidents who have been working to push Shirvani out) wanted. We can argue about whether or not Shirvani’s comparisons were apt, but that’s hardly data manipulation.

Anyway, Porter took her accusations before a legislative committee, and didn’t convince very many people. Even those in the legislature and elected office who view Shirvani as a “bad hire” tell me that Porter’s case for alleged data manipulation is nonsensical.

But now Porter has retained an attorney – former North Dakota Democrat Pary chairman Mark Schneider – and is making claims of defamation:

Porter said she was asked by system employees to compile data for a March 18 presentation to the House subcommittee for appropriations, education and environment division. She said Shirvani and NDUS information officer Randy Thursby instructed her to change aspects of the data she compiled.

Since her testimony before lawmakers — which Porter said was as a citizen and not an NDUS employee — Porter said she’s been ostracized by other NDUS staff. Citing stress and anxiety attacks related to testimony and the aftermath, Porter has been on leave from her job since May 3.

It’s a little hard to feel sorry for Porter. Her claims against Shirvani were dismissed in a legislative hearing – which seemed to reveal Porter’s accusations to be a fairly transparent political hit job – and an audit report from the NDUS which found no evidence of fraud.

But if this all seems like deja vu, remember that North Dakotans have seen this song and dance before.

When there was an effort to push out Workforce Safety and Insurance Director Sandy Blunt which involved Mark Schneider which involved “whistleblowers” and which came, perhaps not coincidentally, after Mr. Schneider’s law firm saw a 589% decline in their billings to WSI for representing injured workers.

The claims against Mr. Blunt were petty – he was guilty of misappropriating state funds because he purchased coupons for massages and car washes with which to reward employees – as are the accusations against Shirvani. In each case, it seems the chief of a government agency is being pushed out because he pushed to implement policies inconvenient to some politically well-connected constituency. With Blunt, it was the WSI lawyers and the unions. With Shirvani, it’s the university presidents.

And the same tactics are used. Whistleblowers and an endless stream of accusations which, while not always entirely grounded in truth, are effective at creating a constant barrage of negative headlines.