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Robb Jeffries, Forum News Service, Published March 03 2013

Divided UND Student Senate votes 'no confidence' on Shirvani

GRAND FORKS – A divided Student Senate at the University of North Dakota passed a vote of “no confidence” of North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani on Sunday.

The resolution cites Shirvani’s failure to allow enough time for student leaders to gather feedback from their schools about proposed board policies, disrespectful interactions between the chancellor and students and legislators, and his creation of “a trend of fear in the (NDUS) office.”

The resolution passed 9-5, with one abstaining.

UND joins North Dakota State University, Minot State University and others to pass such a vote on the embattled chancellor ahead of Thursday’s state Board of Higher Education meeting.

“I’m no Miss Cleo, but (the board) is probably going to put him to task in that meeting,” said Shane Gerbert, the student government’s government affairs commissioner.

The first draft of the body’s resolution was quickly reconstructed after Logan Fletcher, student body president, criticized the resolution for being too vague, and challenged senators to address the root of the issue.

“I don’t think it’s the policies that students have a problem with,” Fletcher said. “I think they are worried about how students are treated throughout this whole process.”

The board’s student member, NDSU student Sydney Hull, took issue with members of the board announcing this past week that the board “remains in full support of the policies adopted by the board and implemented by Chancellor Shirvani.”

“It’s disappointing that three members are talking for the entire board,” Hull told the Herald this past week. “They say the chancellor has full board support. Unfortunately, they forget that I am a board member and I have come out in support of the students.”

Several members of the student government said while Shirvani is merely enacting policy that the board members create, his track record of being a polarizing figure could have a negative effect on North Dakota’s higher education system.

“To put it in aviation terms, the pilot in charge runs the flight,” Gerbert said. “And if the pilot in charge makes a mistake, the plane can end up in a river.”

Gerbert, who opposes proposed state legislation to alter the nature of the board, emphasized the importance of UND’s voice to the board. The board now stands independent of the state legislature, but stands to lose that status because of a House proposal to make the chancellor position an elected position, and a Senate proposal to replace the board with a board of regents led by someone appointed by the governor.

“Even though, as they say, ‘The road to Hell is paved with good intentions,’ this may be that last chance for the board to remain relevant. This vote may save the board.”

Former student member of the board, Robert Valley, pointed to the state senate’s approval of a $854,520 buyout of Shirvani’s contract as a sign that he has not made a positive impact in his first eight months.

“I’ve never seen a legislature that has gone from being supportive of higher education to questioning whether the board should even exist anymore so quickly,” Valley said.

The North Dakota state senate initially voted down an amendment to the North Dakota University System’s budget to provide funding to buyout the remainder of Shirvani’s contract February 26. The following day, however, the senate reconsidered its vote and passed the funding with the amendment with a vote of 36-11.

That funding bill joins the other legislation passed by Senate that will go before the House in the second half of the legislative session, which begins Wednesday.

Senators tabled the resolution for a week to gather feedback from their constituents.

"When I spoke with students, they did not support a no confidence vote" because they did not know enough about the topic, Sen. Joe Kalka said. "Once they were more informed, they preferred the no confidence vote."

Liberal arts student Lonnie Jossart addressed the student senate, and said ousting Shirvani is not the answer.

“Blaming him is easy because he’s an outsider, but it’s the policies of the state board that people seem to have a problem with,” Jossart said. “He’s just the person that implements them.”