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Steve Scheel, Published April 23 2013

Letter: It’s time to replace chancellor

Higher education is a big business in North Dakota, and just like any business that runs well in multiple locations, there needs to be a strong working relationship, honesty and trust in the dialogue between the state Board of Higher Education main office in Bismarck and the 11 institutions around our state. It is no different than our Scheels corporate office in Fargo and our stores spread across 10 states. We have strong systems, we are honest with each other despite some serious debates about focus and direction, and most of all, we trust each other and work very well together. No one person dictates anything and there is reasonable give and take between the 24 stores and the corporate office in Fargo.

As far as I know, we have had strong and capable leadership at most of our 11 campuses in the past, and we have such leadership today. The institutions are generally doing well, and many have made huge strides in the past decade. There will always be debates about the future and where we need to focus, but from North Dakota State College of Science, North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota in the east, to Williston State College and Dickinson State University in the west, we are fortunate to have strong leadership and institutions that are doing pretty well.

The problem: The chancellor appears to have alienated all sorts of folks at the universities across the state. The relationship between the chancellor and the institutions is terrible at present, and there is zero trust. How can anyone work in this environment, feel good about their job, and perform at the high level needed to move higher education forward in North Dakota?

I don’t know Chancellor Hamid Shirvani at all, other than polite conversation around a dinner table one evening when he first arrived. I am the first one to give anyone the benefit of the doubt and more time to prove themselves. But it is crystal clear if you have been following the saga for several months. There will never be a North Dakota University System with a strong working relationship and trust as long as he is in place. When a substantial number of state legislators, several SBHE members, individual campus student governments, the statewide student organization, a campus faculty senate, and even campus presidents have substantial concerns about the chancellor’s leadership style and expertise, and most of them have gone so far as to express those concerns formally, it is time to act.

North Dakota deserves a thorough search to find a replacement who understands our culture and can work in an atmosphere of honesty and trust with the Legislature, the SBHE, and the campus leaders. The state Board of Higher Education needs to do their most important job, and act.

Scheel, of Fargo, is chairman and CEO of Scheels.