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Published March 18 2012

Changes expected as Shirvani takes on role

BISMARCK – With the selection of Hamid Shirvani as the next chancellor of the North Dakota University System, there’s been a lot of discussion about what changes to expect from the California university president.

Shirvani and the three other finalists for the job were interviewed at length by the state Board of Higher Education and other college and business leaders before he was selected Tuesday.

Throughout those discussions, Shirvani gave his thoughts on ways to improve the university system, the relationship with the Legislature and the service provided to students.

Overall, North Dakota has “really a good system,” Shirvani said, but there needs to be more public relations work done so legislators and the public know about it.

Building a relationship with legislators is a top priority, he said. To be effective, there needs to be a clear strategic plan and vision of where the university system wants to be 10 years from now. The plan needs to be developed in collaboration with the governor, Legislature and business community and needs to link to state, economic and workforce development goals, said Shirvani, who has a background in architecture.

Legislators need to know the system is going to be more effective, fruitful and beneficial to state residents than in the past, he said.

He emphasized the need for a unified system and to create more policies that clearly define responsibilities and prevent problems.

Board member Claus Lembke asked Shirvani for ideas on how to get more students ready for college.

Shirvani said he has a lot of experience in college readiness, adding he’s dramatically reduced the number of college freshmen needing remedial classes at California State University Stanislaus, where he has been president since 2005.

North Dakota does not offer enough advanced-placement courses in high schools, and the university system needs to work with the K-12 system to increase college readiness, he said.

There also needs to be a greater public education about the benefits of college and closer relationships between colleges and high schools, Shirvani said

“You have to reach out to the parents, as well as the kids,” he said. “That is a very important issue that I would be focusing on.”

He also suggested sending recent college graduates to high schools to talk about higher education and inviting parents to the universities for parents’ nights.

He also talked about the importance of having enough advising and support for college students to ensure they graduate on time and get into the classes they need.

“Our schedules are not built on the student demand,” he said. “They’re built on what faculty want to teach.”

It rests on the leaders of the campuses to make sure schedules are designed based on student needs, he said.

Discussing salaries, Shirvani said the chancellor needs to be concerned about making sure faculty and staff are compensated “in a fair, positive way” because it’s important for morale and productivity.

“I am quite aware of the fact that salaries are low,” he said.

North Dakota Student Association President William Woodworth asked for Shirvani’s views on tuition and fees.

Shirvani said he’s sympathetic and would do his best to work with the Legislature to increase the funding for higher education, but said he’s also realistic that tuition and fees will eventually increase.

“But I can assure you that I will do my best to make sure these increases are fair, are reasonable, are not draconian,” he said.

Shirvani, 61, will officially begin his duties as chancellor July 1. He plans to make trips to North Dakota before that to prepare for the job, which will pay in the range of $340,000 to $350,000.

He replaces Chancellor Bill Goetz, who retires in August.

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Teri Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.