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Ryan Johnson, Published March 12 2013

Student rep upset over quick Higher Ed Board meeting

BISMARCK – All eyes may be on Bismarck on Thursday when the State Board of Higher Education discusses allegations that the board and Chancellor Hamid Shirvani may have violated open meetings law.

But most board members won’t be there, and student representative Sydney Hull said he’s not even sure if he’ll be able to hear discussion about information he presented to the board March 7.

The allegations Hull brought forward included information that Shirvani had intentionally disregarded concerns from North Dakota University System staff about board meetings and committee gatherings that may have violated open meetings law. He asked for a special meeting in April to review the allegations, which he called “disturbing.”

Hull was told by board President Duaine Espegard that the meeting would be scheduled for May, giving NDUS staff and the board enough time to investigate.

But two days later on Saturday, the university system announced it would hold a special board meeting Thursday. The announcement was sent the same day North Dakota State University student Hull flew to South Africa for a spring break trip.

An updated agenda was released Tuesday, specifying that the meeting would be held by conference call at 2 p.m. originating from the Bismarck State College campus.

“I am upset that they disregarded my request for a meeting in April and then turned around and scheduled one when I was gone,” Hull wrote in an email to The Forum. “I had informed them that I would be gone as well, so I am unhappy.”

He said he will try to call, but he’s in an area that may make that difficult and said his access to the Internet also is limited.

“However, there is nothing I can do now and I’m sure the meeting will go on without me,” he wrote.

Espegard said he received similar concerns from Hull by email early Tuesday, and replied to tell Hull that the board would reimburse him for the cost of making a phone call. He said he hadn’t heard back from Hull by Tuesday evening.

Espegard said it’s important for the board to meet quickly to discuss these issues, which is why the special meeting was organized so quickly.

“These are allegations that are damaging and we need to get to the bottom of them, and that’s all the board really wants to do,” he said.

More than half of the board won’t be in Bismarck on Thursday, though most have confirmed they plan to participate by calling in.

Espegard said he will call from Florida, where he spends the winters. The board’s two members from Fargo, Don Morton and Vice President Kirsten Diederich, will call from the Microsoft campus in Fargo, Morton said. Grant Shaft said in an email that he will call from Phoenix.

The meeting’s agenda lists only one item: “Follow-up on items brought forward by Board member Hull at March 7 Board meeting.”

Espegard said board members will discuss a report from Claire Holloway, the university system’s general counsel, based on her investigation. But he said it’s important to note that she is communicating with the North Dakota attorney general’s office during this review.

Attempts to reach the board’s three other voting members – Terry Hjelmstad, Kathleen Neset and Kari Reichert – were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587