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Published June 04, 2013, 08:51 AM

North Dakota Higher Ed Board might take until 2015 to find next chancellor

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A permanent replacement for departing North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani might not be named until 2015, or perhaps not at all if voters opt to dump the state Board of Higher Education.

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A permanent replacement for departing North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani might not be named until 2015, or perhaps not at all if voters opt to dump the state Board of Higher Education.

The board voted unanimously Monday to release Shirvani from his three-year contract, ending a tumultuous year that saw numerous complaints over the chancellor's leadership style, which some described as heavy handed. Shirvani said he was just doing his job.

The Forum reports that board president Duaine Espegard told staff that the search for a replacement will begin immediately. But it will likely be an interim position.

"Duaine believes it could take as long as two years to find the right person for that," board spokeswoman Linda Donlin said, "so in the meantime, they're going to look for someone who can lead the system while they're looking for the exact right person."

Residents will be asked in November 2014 to vote on a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the board and the chancellor's office in favor of a three-member commission of higher education appointed by the governor. Fargo Republican Sen. Tony Grindberg said the impending vote could limit the pool of applicants.

"Who would apply, not knowing the outcome of the election and if the chancellor position will be going away?" he asked.

The board decided to let Shirvani go after a meeting behind closed doors during its annual retreat. Shirvani, who started the job about a year ago, was to make $349,000 annually through June 2015.

One lawmaker, Republican Rep. Kathy Hawken, of Fargo, said the board had cause "16 ways to China" to fire Shirvani without paying the remaining two years of the contract. She said Shirvani gave "less than factual" testimony to lawmakers, violated the state's open meeting laws and created a hostile work environment.

"They didn't need to pay him a dime," Hawken said. "He violated his contract."

Republican Rep. Bob Skarphol, of Tioga, perhaps Shirvani's most outspoken supporter in the Legislature, criticized the board for the decision to let the chancellor go rather than support him.

"When I take a look at the membership there, I'm not surprised at all," Skarphol said of the board. "Typically on boards you have people who have ran businesses or know at least the ins and outs of doing so, and in this case, we have board members who have never signed anything but the back of a paycheck."

Republican House Majority Leader Al Carlson, of Fargo, said he doesn't believe the announcement of Shirvani's departure after months of controversy will have much of an impact on the vote.

"The people that are closely engaged with the whole process understand who it was and what was going on," he said. "But the average citizen I don't think is that engaged, and what we need to make sure is that the higher ed system itself keeps functioning and clicking along and providing education to those kids."

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