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Ryan Johnson, Published February 25 2013

Student rep on state Board of Higher Education to bring up Shirvani buyout at meeting

BISMARCK – The student representative on the state Board of Higher Education plans to bring up a proposed contract buyout of Chancellor Hamid Shirvani at the March 7 board meeting.

Buyout legislation is being offered by Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, who said Monday he plans to offer a floor amendment to the higher education funding bill today or Wednesday.

It would provide $854,520 from the general fund to buy out the final two years of Shirvani’s three-year contract. If the board didn’t act, $35,605 would be returned to the general fund each month until the end of the next biennium.

The North Dakota Student Association took a Saturday vote of “no confidence” in Shirvani and supports buying out his remaining contract.

Sydney Hull, the state board’s student member, said Saturday’s NDSA vote “really leaves me no choice” but to bring the contract buyout plan up for discussion.

“I would not be doing my job as the student representative on the board if I ignored their calls for removal of the chancellor, he said. “It is obvious wherever you stand on the issue that there are problems.”

Board President Duaine Espegard said Hull is in a “tough spot” because of Hull’s position as student representative.

Still, Espegard said the effort to oust Shirvani is reminiscent of another higher education power struggle – the 2006 resignation of then-Chancellor Robert Potts. Potts accused former North Dakota State University President Joseph Chapman of “a calculated effort to undermine the effectiveness” of his role as chancellor.

Espegard said the board remains “solidly behind” Shirvani.

The North Dakota State University Student Senate on Sunday became the state’s third campus student leadership group to support buying out Shirvani’s contract and declaring “no confidence” in his leadership, along with Minot State University and North Dakota State College of Science.

NDSU Student Body President Luke Brodeur said student senators unanimously approved the resolution that blasts Shirvani for “a noticeable trend of fear between the system office and the campus administrations, as well as mistrust with the North Dakota Legislature” since taking office.”

Hull said he hasn’t had any “negative interactions” with Shirvani, but he supports the buyout because important work seems unlikely to move ahead under his leadership.

Attempts to reach other board members for comment were unsuccessful.

University System spokeswoman Linda Donlin said a statement issued Sunday by Espegard, board Vice President Kirsten Diederich and past President Grant Shaft “speaks for itself” when asked for an interview with Shirvani.

They stated that the board remains in full support of the policies adopted by the board and implemented by Shirvani, and that they were “disappointed” in the NDSA vote.

Grindberg said the recent student resolutions could boost support for the amendment.

“I think this is the first time in North Dakota’s history that students have taken a position such as this,” he said. “I think that just reinforces the concern of the direction that things have been headed in the last seven or eight months.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587