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Rep. Bob Skarphol, Published February 27 2013

Letter: Students’ behavior absurd

The absurdity of students of the universities of the North Dakota University System having a “no confidence” vote of the chancellor in reference to the newly implemented policies and practices of the state Board of Higher Education is beyond ridiculous, and totally inappropriate. These students have been manipulated and cajoled by individuals in the Legislature, and some university administrators themselves, to express a misguided opinion about something that only stands to benefit their status in the job market in the future.

The changes being recommended and implemented are at the direction of the state Board of Higher Education, and only after considerable consultation with individuals and legislators. These are not the musings of an “inexperienced pseudo academic” but the result of the recognition of what needs to happen to have an efficient and effective university system, by an active state board and a highly qualified chancellor who brings to the table a great deal more experience in large system operation than anyone in our system.

The intentional misinformation and distortion utilized to perpetrate a fraud also needs to be dispelled. The office and conference room discussion regarding the IT building at the University of North Dakota was disclosed during the 2011 session in the House Education and Environment section of Appropriations. It was always anticipated that there would be both office space for visiting staff, including system office staff, and a more formal conference room in that facility. It would be ludicrous to build a facility that housed potentially 142 employees, hosting system staff and staff from other institutions, and not have space. If senators do not remember that aspect of the discussion, maybe they were not as thorough as the House.

Our system, when Chancellor Hamid Shirvani arrived, was a loosely organized hodgepodge of federated schools that had diverse policies that lent themselves to inconsistent and often incompetent operations. The proof lies in the many embarrassing events that have taken place over the last few years at numerous institutions.

Chancellor Shirvani brings organizational ability to the table, and it terrifies some people in the institutions and the Legislature that a “real expert” may finally be at the helm of the ship; and the playground atmosphere at some of the campuses may have to become accountable. I submit that there has been an organized, behind-the-scenes effort to discredit and destroy the individual that can give the North Dakota taxpayer exactly what they want from our university system. I find the actions of those individuals perpetrating this fraud absolutely reprehensible. Chancellor Shirvani is a highly qualified and honorable man who deserves the opportunity to implement and administer the policies and practices that his experience has taught him will achieve what it is we want for the university system.

Every person in the state should be thankful the board recognized problems and chose a path that will result in the accountability we all desire without infringing on the innovative nature of the faculty and research. The path we have been on recently is embarrassing and reprehensible. It must stop or higher education institutions will stagnate and continue to function at the substandard level of the past five to 10 years. They will languish in disrespect, rather than gain the support of the Legislature and the citizenry that is critical to their success.

It is time to stop the cheap theatrics and start to treat people with respect based on the factual information with regard to change.

My conversations with the public and members of the board indicate that they are 100 percent in support of Shirvani and the policies and procedures they have implemented. It takes courage and conviction to weather the type of storm that has been surrounding higher education. If allowed to move forward, I believe the future will be bright.

Rep. Skarphol, R-Tioga, is chairman, Appropriations-Education and Environment Committee.