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Rep. Kathy Hawken, Published March 16 2013

Letter: Still time to repair the damage

For the majority of my life, I have been an education advocate. I spend time and effort to ensure North Dakota provides the best public education possible for the youngest to the oldest.

It has been stated that no one communicated with the Board of Higher Education. I shared what is in this column with several board members as early as last August.

First, the 11 university presidents are experienced professionals who are willing and able to incorporate new ideas and voices. The new chancellor, Hamid Shirvani, has not been inclusive or visionary. He brought ideas from other states and attempted to unilaterally implement them without regard for the culture or needs of North Dakota. Several of his “initiatives” were under way prior to his arrival.

The presidents have struggled respectfully with new policies to make lemonade out of ill-conceived directives. Shirvani and the executive committee of the board, who continue to support him “100 percent,” are not equipped for the job. The rapid-fire change of policies seemed designed to exclude the full board, much less others who have expertise. It appears they realize their ideas might not be acceptable if aired in open meetings. This is not leadership.

While the board used a professional firm to find the chancellor, I question the due diligence of the selection committee. It takes a simple Google search to find information that would give most people pause. Shirvani’s record indicated his style was overbearing, ineffective and leaned toward bullying. His resumé included zero experience at the system level or with research universities. It is not surprising he has been unable to build a collaborative team.

Students! Students! Those are the words of the chancellor and the board chairman when they talk about priorities. Then why were students excluded from comment on a makeover of the admissions process?

Other examples of questionable conduct:

When faced with the allegations the board’s answer was to investigate with their in-house counsel. The fox is guarding the henhouse.

Mistakes have been made. It is time to make changes and move forward. Our first-rate system of higher education is too valuable to lose.


Hawken, R-Fargo, represents District 46 in the North Dakota House.