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Matt Von Pinnon, Published March 09 2013

Von Pinnon: Dear Shirvani: Take the buyout; consider it a learning experience

Dear Hamid Shirvani:

Take the money and run.

If your bosses offer you a nearly $1 million payout of taxpayer dollars to buy out your contract, don’t stop to ask questions.

I say all this regardless of whether you contributed to the higher education crises North Dakota faces today.

Those problems were here before you came, and they will likely be here long after you leave. Your leadership style may have fanned the already-burning embers of unrest, but you didn’t start the fire.

We find ourselves in the middle of a constitutional power struggle between the Legislature and the Board of Higher Ed and you, my friend, are the unfortunate middle man.

Because the Legislature holds the purse strings for the state’s university system, it’s nearly impossible for the Board of Higher Ed to not become politicized despite its mission to make decisions independent of political influence.

So, while the Board of Higher Ed says they fully back you and all the difficult changes you’ve had to make in a very short time, they won’t be able to protect you in the wake of the financial fallout sure to threaten their universities if you stay.

You rightly thought that your bosses wanted you to make the system and its leaders more accountable.

What you failed to fully realize, however, is that those leaders – the college presidents – wield a lot of political power in the state and aren’t too keen on all the changes being pushed (ask former Chancellor Potts how things turned out when he got sideways with a certain university president.)

Soon, legislators and students working on the college presidents’ behalf declared you the problem.

And it now appears you and the Board of Higher Ed have handed them a stick with which to beat you.

If the recent allegations of open meetings violations are true, you might not be lucky enough to escape with a buyout after all.

In another absurd twist, the allegations of open meetings violations are directed at you when, in fact, you can’t even violate an open meetings law.

Yes, you might have called some clandestine meetings of the Board of Higher Ed, or its executive board, but the board members themselves know that by deciding matters in private they, not you, are breaking the law.

It’s up to board members to say, “No, this isn’t right, and we can’t do this.”

And then for the Board of Higher Ed to say they will investigate whether laws were broken – using your own staff to investigate – is truly unprecedented.

That’s why The Forum on Friday asked for the attorney general to determine if the Board of Higher Ed has violated open meetings laws.

His independent investigation will likely take some time – time enough for you to figure out an exit plan before things get uglier.

If you’re able to get out sooner than later with some extra cash in your hand, consider it a learning experience and don’t look back.


Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum.

Reach him at (701) 241-5579 or mvonpinnon@forumcomm.com