Ham Shirvani, Published March 23 2013
Letter: Hawken short on factsIn her March 16 column in The Forum, Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, criticized recent events in higher education as well as the state Board of Higher Education, board members, and the work of the university system’s legal counsel, and, primarily, she criticized me.
Accusations similar to those raised by Rep. Hawken were made at a recent meeting of the board. These accusations have circulated for some time and were finally presented on the record directly to the board for review, resulting in investigation and a thorough 200-plus- page report that addressed each one. One conclusion of the university system’s legal counsel is that many of the allegations could be put to rest by a simple review of the facts.
After reading Hawken’s column, I was reminded of the old but prescient adage, “My mind is made up, don’t bother me with the facts.”
I would encourage Hawken and others who share her concerns to consider the findings of the report.
- Hawken states she talked with members of the board in August. The majority of the initiatives and policies that were developed for the system were not introduced to the board until late September.
- Hawken states that I brought ideas from other states “without regard for the culture or needs of North Dakota,” and that several initiatives were already under way prior to my arrival. I am not from North Dakota, and much has been made of that fact. Of course, ideas can be legitimate even if introduced into the state by a non-native or an existing administrator. Although I admit that I am still adapting to the culture in North Dakota, it is the board that ultimately sets the direction for higher education through the adoption of policy.
- Hawken stated that I have micromanaged the campuses. To the extent some campuses may feel micromanaged, it may be an understandable response – in the past campuses have operated autonomously and without real oversight. The result has been overlap, inefficiency, and a lack of accountability. As we begin to operate as a unified system, there will be more interaction between the system office and the campuses, and more direction coming from the board and chancellor’s office. This centralization may feel like micromanagement in comparison to where we have been, but I assure you there are no plans at the system level to unduly interfere with the campus operations.
- Hawken also made statements that were designed to discredit my background. Although I am happy to debate policies and our vision, it is hard not to take these reputational allegations personally. I have worked in four research universities – two as dean, three as tenured professor, and one as a faculty member. My scholarship as an architect and urban designer is recognized internationally, and much of that experience, particularly in the area of strategic planning, migrated into my reputation as a strong administrator. I believe the board hired me because they believed this expertise would be valuable in shaping the direction of the system.
- Finally, Hawken alleges that my style is overbearing, ineffective and leans toward bullying. I admit to being a driven, no-nonsense, results-oriented administrator. I am robust in the exercise of my responsibilities. I am constantly scanning the academic world for better practices and greater efficiencies. I insist on good data on which to make decisions. I have high expectations for myself and set an equally high bar for those with whom I work. Perhaps my demands are greater than those that have previously been set by the chancellor’s office, but I am accountable to the board to provide a first-rate system of higher education.
I was hired to bring together a unified university system for the state of North Dakota. Much has been said or written about me since I began work in North Dakota, some of it untrue and much of it exaggerated. I continue to weather the politics and attacks on my reputation in the sincere desire that we may return our discourse to the work at hand.
I am passionate about higher education; it has been my life’s work. Hawken states she is an advocate of education. I am happy to hear we share this common ground. I look forward to working with her and others as we look for ways to improve our state’s public higher education system.
Shirvani is chancellor, North Dakota University System.