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Published February 20 2013

Editorial: Higher ed saga still unfolding

The controversial chancellor of the North Dakota University System has called a meeting of campus presidents because – as his email to the presidents put it – “several of you have expressed publicly and privately your concerns” with the policy governing the presidents’ “authority and responsibilities.” Chancellor Ham Shirvani wrote he wants his Cabinet (the presidents) “to hear a full discussion of your concerns and any suggested revisions to this policy …”

Shirvani is off to a less-than-auspicious start as chancellor. He’s advanced excellent ideas to improve the university system and to raise standards for admissions and accountability. But his failure – abetted by a surprisingly tone-deaf state Board of Higher Education – to understand the culture and quirks of the Legislature has shifted focus from system reforms to his job performance. If he is unable to work productively with legislators who are reliable supporters of higher education, his reforms will founder.

The matter of concern among campus presidents is equally as serious. The chancellor’s email pointedly notes their concerns “expressed publicly and privately.” It’s the “privately” aspect that is undermining Shirvani’s authority, as he and the board define it. The Cabinet meeting called for Feb. 28 could be construed as taking presidents to the woodshed for talking “privately” about a new board-approved policy that redefines the relationship between the presidents and the chancellor – a policy that, among other things, seems to grant Shirvani hiring and firing latitude some presidents and legislators see as unprecedented, unnecessary and potentially punitive.

Or, the meeting could be an olive branch during which Shirvani will offer more than lip service to, as his email put it, “suggested revisions to this policy as well as other policies …” That would be a start in the process of righting higher education’s listing ship.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.