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James Ferragut, Published April 07 2012

Ferragut: ‘Mr. Smith’ reflects the worst

One of our worst character flaws is intolerance. By that I mean our rush to easy judgment and our unwillingness or failure to recognize, embrace and accept the diversity that comprises the human race.

I just read a letter to The Forum by a man I’ll call “Mr. Smith.” I’m not going to honor him by his real name. I don’t care if I embarrass him; he’s done that himself.

Smith is “amazed and disappointed” that people who are not “part of our culture” are appointed to positions in North Dakota’s higher education system. He was referring to Dr. Hamid “Ham” Shirvani, who was unanimously hired to be North Dakota’s new higher ed chancellor.

Among Shirvani’s qualifications: He has a BA in architecture from Polytechnic Central London, an MLA from Harvard, an MA and a Ph.D. from Princeton. He’s been dean, provost, vice president or president at Chapman University, Queens College New York, University of Massachusetts, University of Pennsylvania, University of Syracuse, N.Y., University of Colorado and Penn State.

Board of Higher Education President Grant Shaft paid Shirvani the highest compliment by saying: “He is the one person who you almost can never get out of a room because everybody flocks to that guy, and I see staff nodding their heads.” He continued, “Whoever he sits with, they get so drawn into this fellow, and there’s something about him.”

Here’s a challenge for Mr. Smith: What if he learned that one of his kids required immediate and highly specialized medical care and he had to choose between two doctors.

The first choice was a doctor who was born and raised in North Dakota, graduated from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine, is currently practicing at Sanford in Fargo and is highly skilled and respected but not quite as accomplished and experienced as another doctor.

The other doctor was born in Boston and raised by Italian immigrants. This doctor worked through the obstacles of the 20th-century racism and elitism, but still graduated from Harvard Medical School with honors. He specializes in the specific care the child needs. He is one of the best in the country.

Tell me you wouldn’t choose the second doctor to treat your child. Tell me you’d choose a less experienced, less qualified doctor because he belonged to your “only from North Dakota” club. Look in the mirror. This isn’t about you and your stifled prejudice. It’s about the love for your kid. It’s about the skill of a medical team. It’s about trust, faith and the hope of a child’s survival.

Smith ends his letter by saying “this new insult (the appointment of Shirvani) tells me the people of North Dakota aren’t good enough. And this is pure BS.”

That comment is so off-target it’s laughable. The only thing I see that is pure BS is his hateful attitude.


Ferragut, general manager/marketing consultant for a Fargo advertising firm, is a regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary page.


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