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Published February 07, 2013, 08:50 AM

North Dakota chancellor dispute involves alleged comment

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A state lawmaker says a comment the North Dakota University System chancellor made to some legislators about five of 11 public college presidents in the state being unfit for duty is evidence of Hamid Shirvani's overbearing style of leadership.

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A state lawmaker says a comment the North Dakota University System chancellor made to some legislators about five of 11 public college presidents in the state being unfit for duty is evidence of Hamid Shirvani's overbearing style of leadership.

Chancellor Hamid Shirvani has denied making the statement, and state Board of Higher Education officials said he has their complete support.

Rep. Bob Martinson, R-Bismarck, told The Forum newspaper that alleged missteps by Shirvani such as his treatment of presidents and other staff has rankled some state lawmakers who are now pushing for his removal.

"From the day he arrived, the chancellor has received extremely poor advice," Martinson said. "If he got better advice, it appears he didn't listen."

Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, said earlier this week that he plans to introduce an amendment to the higher education budget bill that would provide funding for the state Board of Higher Education to buy out Shirvani's contract because of "questionable leadership and mistrust." He has not said when he will introduce the amendment.

Shirvani has been at the helm of the university system since last July. His contract runs through June 2015. He is paid $349,000 annually.

Higher Education board member Grant Shaft, who led the chancellor search committee, and board President Duaine Espegard support Shirvani.

"I believe he has 100 percent board backing, without exception," Shaft said.

Legislators said they wanted a strong chancellor because campuses had too much latitude and not enough accountability, and Shirvani fits that description, Shaft said.

"He has quickly and efficiently met every mandate that he's received from the board," Shaft said. The board directed Shirvani to make improvements "immediately and aggressively," he said.

Shirvani has proposed an overhaul of the higher education system to tighten admission standards. He also is seeking 30 more employees to help do the job.

Martinson said the "arrogance" of Shirvani and Espegard is "unbelievable," and he thinks Grindberg's proposal will win sufficient support among lawmakers.

"It's probably the most tone-deaf board I've ever seen," Martinson said.

Shirvani, who said he is "under absolute microscopic examination here," is no stranger to controversy. He received a faculty vote of no confidence in November 2009 while serving as president of California State University-Stanislaus. Former faculty leader Lynn Johnson told The Forum that Shirvani's "aggressive and authoritarian management style" didn't work at the school.

Shirvani said the no-confidence vote came after he made tough budget decisions that his predecessors had failed to make. The North Dakota Board of Higher Education was aware of the no-confidence vote when it hired Shirvani — who in 2009 also received the "President of the Year" award from the student government body of the 23-campus state university system in California.

"I am a passionate person and when I believe in something I speak very passionately and I express it very passionately and maybe they're not used to it," Shirvani said of his detractors.

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