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Published March 17 2012

NDUS chancellor’s high salary comes with high expectations

FARGO – If money talks, the loudest voice in the North Dakota University System will belong to its new chancellor.

Hamid Shirvani, the California State University-Stanislaus president who accepted the job this week, will start at a salary between $340,000 and $350,000 – about $100,000 more than the outgoing chancellor’s compensation.

It’ll be the highest salary of any employee in the system, a distinction that comes with expectations that Shirvani will bring a stronger presence to the role.

“We want a strong CEO,” said Grant Shaft, president of the state Board of Higher Education, which hired Shirvani. Accordingly, “We agreed that it was important to have the chancellor be the top-salaried employee in the system.”

That’s not the case now. Current Chancellor William Goetz, who will retire this summer, makes $220,000, plus about $31,000 in housing and vehicle allowances. By comparison, University of North Dakota President Robert Kelley makes $330,000 and North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani makes $312,000.

Shaft said there were a handful of reasons for Shirvani’s big bump. Goetz was hired before the board adopted its current salary scale. Shirvani makes about $322,000 a year in his current job, and “it’s difficult to get that caliber of a candidate to commit if they’re going to be taking a pay cut,” Shaft said.

The offer is also in line with salaries for the heads of university systems in comparable states such as South Dakota and Wyoming, Shaft said.

He said Shirvani’s pay isn’t intended to put university presidents on notice about the new chancellor’s authority. But he did say the relationship between the chancellor and the presidents could do with more clarity.

“We need to clearly define what the role of the chancellor is,” Shaft said. “We’ve been a little gray in that are in the past.”

RaeAnn Kelsch, a Mandan state representative who sits on the Interim Higher Education Committee, has been a proponent for making the chancellor the top-paid administrator in the system. As the search process began last fall, she said it was unusual for top executives to earn less than the people they manage.

But she said this week she still wants to see a clearer definition of the job.

“When I made that statement, I was thinking that the Board of Higher Education was going to come out and tell us what the job description was going to be of the new chancellor, and in fact they haven’t done that,” Kelsch said.

She said the current arrangement lacks a clear pecking order. If the board micromanages campuses, she said, little will change.

Shirvani, for his part, said he recognizes the need for a more cohesive chain of command.

“If everybody’s campaigning with everybody, there is no system,” he said. “I don’t blame that the Legislature would say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ ”

He’s also cognizant of another pitfall Kelsch raised: an outsider who takes too strong a hand could alienate people quickly.

“It’s absolutely not my role to sit in Bismarck and manage 11 campuses,” Shirvani said. “My role is to set clear directions and expect results.”

That’s in line with the way Bresciani likes to do business. The NDSU president said it’s important for a chancellor to trust the presidents to run their own campuses.

“In terms of the day-to-day operations of NDSU, he doesn’t have a substantial role in the day-to-day operations,” Bresciani said of Goetz, with whom he said he has a good working relationship.

Shirvani said he’ll ultimately make the tough decisions for the system, but he’ll seek input and dialogue first.

“I don’t know everything, and I don’t claim to know everything, but I have a good pair of listening ears,” he said. “If a president disagrees with me, I’m going to talk to him. Either the president convinces me or I convince the president.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502