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Published May 16 2012

UPDATED: 'I just got tired': Smith resigns from ND higher ed board

BISMARCK – For the third time this year, the North Dakota Board of Higher Education will have to replace a voting member.

Richie Smith, a Wahpeton attorney and former board president and vice president, said Wednesday he is stepping down from the board. Smith, a board member since 2005, was serving a second four-year term set to expire in June 2013.

In an interview, Smith said he had been mulling the move for about a month as he struggled to reconcile the demands of the board work with his commitments to his law practice and family.

“I just got tired, I guess. Seven years is long enough,” he said.

He said incoming North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani deserves a board that’s fully committed to the job. Once he no longer fit that description, he said, he decided it was time to go.

“I just lost my passion and desire.” He said. “Selfishly, I got tired of working nights and weekends to stay current.”

Smith’s resignation comes after Claus Lembke, a Bismarck-based board member whose term was to expire next year, resigned in April. Michael Haugen of Fargo, whose term expires this summer, will not seek a second term.

Both men cited the stress, workload, and charged political atmosphere of higher education in their decisions. In recent years, the board has sparred with the state legislature over everything from tuition increases to the Fighting Sioux nickname.

But Smith said neither politics nor a specific issue drove him out.

“It’s always been that way,” he said. “That was not the problem.”

He said he thinks he’s leaving the higher education system in better shape than he found it seven years ago.

Grant Shaft, president of the board, called Smith, who previously served two years as board president, “one of the pillars of the board.”

He praised Smith’s leadership through difficult issues, including the Fighting Sioux nickname controversy.

Under Smith’s leadership, the University System saw some of its greatest growth and the appointment of presidents who are now part of “the best group of presidents that the University System has ever had,” Shaft said.

“A lot of that is a direct result of Richie’s leadership,” Shaft said.

Don Morton, a Microsoft executive and former North Dakota State University football coach, was picked by Gov. Jack Dalrymple last month to replace Haugen.

The board, which has eight voting members, oversees policy decisions and budget requests for the state's 11-campus college and university system.

Forum Communications multimedia reporter Teri Finneman contributed to this report.