TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published February 23 2013
ND public college students express "no confidence" in university system chancellor, support buyout
The North Dakota Student Association, representing more than 48,000 public university students, made it clear Saturday morning that Shirvani’s behavior and handling of the 11 public universities over the past seven months conflicts with the State Board of Higher Education’s core values.
All 11 university student government associations met Saturday morning at Bismarck State College, with a vast majority of representatives approving a vote of “no confidence” in Shirvani. A landslide majority of them also support a proposed university system budget amendment that would have taxpayers buyout Shirvani’s contract for $800,000.
That amendment, floated by Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, will likely be offered and voted on this week during a Senate floor discussion on Senate Bill 2003.
“An effective system of higher education hinges on a culture of openness and access, especially pertaining to the views of its students,” the vote of no confidence resolution states. “The hierarchical, top-down culture for communication and authority, as shown in written communications from the chancellor as well as changes to SBHE policy during his first few months in office, have created a culture of mistrust and disconnect.”
The student assembly voted on the proposed buyout amendment first, which passed by a 50-5 vote, with 11 abstaining. The vote of no confidence received a 53-2 vote, with seven abstaining.
Shirvani did not respond to an email seeking his comments on the votes, and his cellphone number was not known.
State Board of Higher Education President Duaine Espegard was traveling Saturday and said he had no comment about the resolutions.
Keegan Ilenda, a senior NDSU student and former student senator, urged the NDSA assembly to support both resolutions. He said psychological theories and research will show Shirvani’s actions will not change.
“His behaviors are tendencies that are very stable and will not change. They are not going to get any better from here,” Ilenda said. “How you have acted in the past is a strong predictor of how you will act in the future, especially in organizations and leadership.”
He said Shirvani has an extremely hands-on management style and doesn’t use feedback from state Board of Higher Education members or students.
Each student government body said they discussed the issues extensively over the past few weeks, two even passing resolutions in favor of the buyout, but none of the 11 campuses polled their students to get a better idea of how they felt about Shirvani.
Delegates from Dickinson State University said they did not have enough information to vote for or against either resolution, so they abstained.
Sydney Hull, the student association’s State Board of Higher Education student member, said Saturday’s votes put him in a tough position, indicating the kind relationship he has with Shirvani. But Hull has no problem taking the resolutions to the state board during its next meeting March 7 in Bismarck.
“What does it say less than a year later to have an overwhelming majority in favor of removing him?” Hull asked the assembly.
When asked whether the Board of Higher Education put pressure on him before Saturday’s vote, Hull said some board members expressed their concerns with the students “getting involved in a political matter.”
Hull said student opinions are important to the board members, and could have a strong influence on some members who have already publicly supported Shirvani.
“It might make (them) reconsider,” he said. “I think it will at least get through to them what the students’ opinion is.”
Minot State University and North Dakota State College of Science student governments passed resolutions in support of a vote of no confidence and a contract buyout before Saturday’s meeting.
Minot State’s resolution drew criticism from Rep. Mark Dosch, R-Bismarck, who said in an email to MSU Student President Lindsey Nelson that he was “appalled” by their resolutions and viewed them “as totally inappropriate at this time.”
“The chancellor has been on the job for only about seven months, and you have already condemned someone I bet you have only met once or twice,” he said in the email. “This leads me to believe that from the president of Minot State on down, you have been poisoned. You have made a decision without knowing all the facts, which is deplorable.”
Dosch, a member of the Education and Natural Resources Division of the House Appropriations Committee, said he hasn’t taken a position on the issues facing Shirvani, and won’t until he has all the facts, but tried to illustrate why he believed the schools’ resolutions were unwarranted.
“We, the ND House of Representative, have not even heard the budget of the university system nor the individual campus budget requests, including Minot State,” his email said. “How would you like it if I have determined that the budget of Minot State should be cut by 25 percent without even looking at the budget or hearing all the facts before I made that decision?”
Student association President William Woodworth said he had not heard any other resentment about the schools’ resolutions.
Robert Vallie, former student association delegate to the Board of Higher Education, made clear early on in the discussion over the two resolutions that the student association should vote however it desired because it is immune to any political backlash from any state organization or individual.
NDSU student association Sen. Robbie Lauf urged the assembly not to let student momentum die.
“It’s one of the largest decisions NDSA will have to make,” he said. “This is something that is too important for students not to have a voice.”