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Published February 27, 2013, 03:23 PM

North Dakota Senate votes to buy out university chancellor

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's Senate reconsidered and endorsed a proposal on Wednesday to buy out the last two years of University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani's three-year contract.

By: JAMES MacPHERSON,Associated Press , Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's Senate reconsidered and endorsed a proposal on Wednesday to buy out the last two years of University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani's three-year contract.

Shirvani has come under criticism for what some lawmakers described as an overly aggressive management style. On Tuesday, Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, offered a floor amendment to a higher education funding bill to buy out Shrivani's contract. That effort failed, but the Senate reconsidered Grindberg's amendment on Wednesday, approving it 28-19.

The amendment provides about $854,000 for the buyout but does not require the Board of Higher Education to fire Shirvani. The measure now goes to the House for consideration.

Shirvani was hired last July as the top administrator in the North Dakota university system, which includes six four-year universities and five two-year colleges, with an enrollment of about 48,000 students. The system has a two-year budget of more than $1 billion.

The system's college presidents report to Shirvani, who answers to the Board of Higher Education.

Shirvani has said he was given a mandate by the board to improve low graduation rates, student retention rates and other problems among the campuses. In doing so, he apparently has rankled some lawmakers, students, faculty and administrators.

The North Dakota Student Association expressed a vote of "no confidence" in Shirvani on Saturday, but the Board of Higher Education issued a statement a day later, expressing support for Shirvani.

Sen. John Andrist, R-Crosby, said the Legislature overstepping its power by meddling in the board's duties.

"You're really doing violence to our system," Andrist told fellow lawmakers. "Think of the message we're sending: Boy, you better not step on the toes of my president or I'll be back here in the Legislature to protect you."

Dick Dever, R-Bismarck, told lawmakers he has witnessed Shirvani's alleged overbearing style of leadership.

"I don't think anybody should treat anybody the way I've seen him treat others," said Dever, who did not elaborate.

Shirvani, an architect by training, holds a master's degree from Harvard and a doctorate from Princeton. He is a native of Iran whose family moved to London when he was young to escape religious persecution. Shirvani describes himself as a devout Roman Catholic.

He has been a teacher or administrator at universities in Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky, Colorado, Massachusetts and most recently California, where he was the president of California State University, Stanislaus.

When he was hired as the chancellor, North Dakota officials said Shirvani made tough budget decisions at the California school that had spurred a vote of no confidence about his leadership.

North Dakota officials also called Shirvani a strong leader who was willing to overhaul a university system that has been mired in drama and controversy, including problems at Dickinson State University, where an audit determined the school awarded hundreds of degrees to foreign students who didn't earn them.

Shirvani replaced William Goetz, a former lawmaker, who served four years as chancellor. Goetz became chancellor of North Dakota's university system after a power struggle forced the resignation of Robert Potts in 2006. Potts resigned after the Board of Higher Education sided with then-North Dakota State University President Joseph Chapman, who challenged Potts' authority over the university system's presidents.

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