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Christopher Bjorke, Forum News Service, Published March 08 2013

Shirvani meets with Grand Forks, UND leaders in Bismarck

BISMARCK — North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani assured a group of UND and Grand Forks leaders Friday that he was not out to take away independence from campuses.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with micromanaging,” Shirvani said, “nor with taking away authority.”

His assurance addressed some unease in the university system that his plan to revamp the system would centralize power in the chancellor’s office.

Shirvani said his plan instead was meant to improve schools’ quality, enrollment standards, retention and remedial learning rates.

“I wanted to put that to rest that this is really the agenda,” Shirvani said. “There’s nothing more than that.”

The meeting with the chancellor was one of a series of visits between the Grand Forks group and state officials and legislators to discuss developments important to the city, including UND projects. But it also followed allegations made during Thursday’s meeting of the State Board of Higher Education that Shirvani repeatedly violated policies regarding open meetings and records.

The board’s student representative, Sydney Hull, claimed Shirvani helped create an “environment of misinformation and distrust” among college presidents, students, administrations and legislators.

The newest criticism of Shirvani is the latest controversy around his tenure that has also included a move to fund a buyout of his contract, no-confidence votes by student associations and criticism of a plan for a chancellor’s office in a new technology building at UND.

None of those were addressed in comments made by the visiting Grand Forks leaders, who talked about expansion projects with UND’s medical and law schools and developments with unmanned aerial systems projects.

The Grand Forks visitors also said they supported Shirvani’s proposals for the universities.

“The university is very pleased with that plan and we’re solidly on board,” said UND spokesman Peter Johnson.

Shirvani said his proposals were necessary to strengthen the university system and avoid crises such as evidence that emerged last year that Dickinson State University was awarding diplomas to unqualified students.

He did say, however, that schools would have to give up some independence on issues of finance, human resources and compliance with policies across the system.

Shirvani told the group that UND and North Dakota State University would benefit from higher admission standards, more fulltime faculty and a greater emphasis on research.

“The more we build up the two research universities, the whole system will rise,” he said.

Johnson said criticism of Shirvani’s or questions of his removal from his job did not affect Friday’s meeting or UND’s relations with the chancellor.

“I don’t think it did. I don’t think it does,” he said.

UND Center for Innovation Director Bruce Gjovig said the group appreciated Shirvani’s comments.

“I think he was sending the message so alarm bells don’t go off,” he said. “We don’t want centralized power.”

As for questions of whether Shirvani would keep his job, Gjovig said he believed he would stay for the remainder of the legislative session, and the group’s focus during this week’s meetings were legislative goals.

Shirvani said after the meeting that he made his comments because he wanted to put to rest ideas questions of his authority over colleges.

“I certainly have no intention of running these campuses from here,” Shirvani said after the meeting. “Trust me, this question is so bogus.”