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Published February 25 2013

Forum editorial: Higher ed credibility on the line

The chances of North Dakota’s new higher education chancellor surviving the ruckus over his leadership style slipped over the weekend, as two developments tilted odds a little further against Ham Shirvani and his supporters on the state Board of Higher Education.

First, representatives of the North Dakota Student Association met in Bismarck to pass a resolution of no confidence in the chancellor, and to support a bill in the Legislature that provides funds to buy out his contract. The association represents some 48,000 students. Campus-based student groups, including those at the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University, either have approved or are contemplating similar resolutions.

If student dissatisfaction wasn’t enough to open eyes to the chancellor’s situation, three members of the higher ed board found it necessary to react to the students with a statement restating the board’s unqualified support for Shirvani. Three board members signed the document – the president, a former president and the vice president. No word if the other five board members (and two advisory members) are on the same page.

And therein rests the board’s myopia. Board President Duaine Espegard has said again and again the board is “100 percent” in support of Shirvani. Really? How can that be? A perusal of the biographies of board members finds individuals who are highly accomplished, intelligent and are recognized leaders in their fields of endeavor. In other words, independent thinkers and doers, who are quite capable, thank you, of coming up with their own informed opinions. Yet, they’ve not had anything of substance to say about the escalating controversy dogging their chancellor. Are Espegard’s 100 percenters oblivious to the obvious? Not likely.

So, let’s review the latest two-step through the higher ed minefield. First, students – you know, the system’s customers – are unhappy with the chancellor’s performance and have said so in an unprecedented uprising. Second, the higher ed board is beginning to look as credible as Lance Armstrong on a bicycle.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that all this falls under the rubric of “higher education”?


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