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Published June 20, 2013, 11:04 AM

Shirvani to leave immediately , Bismarck State's Larry Skogen to serve as interim chancellor

BOTTINEAU, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's Board of Higher Education on Thursday placed embattled university system Chancellor Hamid Shirvani on administrative leave, cutting the last ties in a failed professional relationship that couldn't end soon enough for anyone involved.

BOTTINEAU, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's Board of Higher Education on Thursday placed embattled university system Chancellor Hamid Shirvani on administrative leave, cutting the last ties in a failed professional relationship that couldn't end soon enough for anyone involved.

The board voted last month to buy out the remaining two years of Shirvani's three-year contract, after months of pressure from critics who questioned his leadership style. He was to stay until July 15, but the board decided Thursday at its meeting in Bottineau to speed up his departure.

The board hired Bismarck State College President Larry Skogen to serve as acting interim chancellor for about two months while it searches for a longer-term replacement for the interim position. The job is interim because North Dakotans will vote in November 2014 on a proposed constitutional amendment that would eliminate the board and the chancellor's office in favor of a three-member higher education commission appointed by the governor.

Shirvani didn't attend Thursday's meeting. He has said that he was given a mandate to overhaul the state's higher education system and was only doing his job. The native of Iran also said he had been subjected to racial slurs and profanity. He told a television station early this month that he never should have taken the job.

Some who worked for or with Shirvani accused him of being overbearing. Republican state Sen. Tony Grindberg, who has been one of Shirvani's most outspoken critics, accused him earlier this year of creating "an environment of fear and retaliation" in the university system.

Skogen will remain president at Bismarck State while taking on the additional duties. He said he has an excellent staff that will help with campus operations.

Skogen said he did not apply for the interim chancellor position, but outgoing Board President Duaine Espegard called him Wednesday and asked if he would temporarily fill the position.

"I said, 'I'm a public servant and always have been and I can help wherever I am needed,'" Skogen said.

The board also has come under fire itself for some previous meetings that Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said violated North Dakota's open meetings laws. Two newspapers have asked Stenehjem for an opinion on the legality of some recent board meetings. Shirvani also raised eyebrows recently when he recommended raises for all of the system's university and college presidents except for the presidents of the University of North Dakota and Minot State University, who were among his biggest detractors.

"There's a lot of healing that has to occur, and it has to occur now," Skogen said.

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