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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published March 27 2013

Staff member says Shirvani misled legislators

BISMARCK – A North Dakota University System staff member says Chancellor Hamid Shirvani presented misleading information to legislators to make two college presidents look bad.

Linda Baeza Porter, interim system office liaison officer for reporting and information, said Wednesday that Shirvani purposely compared the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University to larger schools such as the University of Wisconsin and University of Minnesota to point out disparities, rather than making comparisons to more similar-sized schools.

“When I was asked to provide the information, this was to make (UND and NDSU) look bad,” she told the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

“I have witnessed and heard (Shirvani’s) mission is to get rid of the presidents.”

Shirvani said the information was not misleading. “We just put the data into a different context – instead of peer schools, compared them to aspiring schools. Nothing else was changed.”

The information compared such things as the number of freshman students taking remedial classes, and retention and graduation rates.

Porter was asked by system employees to compile the data for a March 18 presentation to the House appropriations education and environment subcommittee. She said Shirvani and Randall Thursby, the system’s chief information officer, asked her to change the comparison schools, which she refused to do.

Porter said the information could be a potential violation of State Board of Higher Education policy and state open records and fraud statutes. She is asking the House Appropriations Committee to investigate.

Shirvani said the allegations “are another part of relentless tactics of assassination over fear of governance.”

Shirvani has been a controversial figure in his first year as the leader of the North Dakota’s 11 public colleges and universities, with some lawmakers seeking to oust him because of his heavy-handed management style.

Porter said she stepped forward with the information because all other system employees fear they may lose their jobs.

“Many have children and a lot more to worry about,” she said. “I have the least to lose and nothing to gain.”