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Published April 27 2013

Forum editorial: Time for Shirvani to resign

Hamid Shirvani’s brief tenure as North Dakota’s chancellor of higher education has been remarkable for its seemingly endless blunders, arrogant management style and needless controversy, all of which have damaged the state’s 11 campuses and their students. Shirvani was hired last July to unify the public colleges and universities into a more cohesive, centrally managed system. Almost from the start, however, he has sewed seeds of fear and mistrust, and has alienated important constituencies, including business leaders, legislators and students, whose representatives have passed multiple “no confidence” votes rebuking his leadership.

Shirvani’s time in office has been unprecedented for the sheer scope and variety of missteps, authoritarian overreach and ruptured relationships. Underlying many of Shirvani’s problems is a drive to go too far, too fast, matched by an inability to read the political landscape and communicate effectively with essential partners.

Let’s review highlights from the blooper reel: Shirvani charged out of the chute with an audacious budget request to add 30 positions to his central staff. The magnitude of the request prompted a backlash from legislators known for their aversion to big government. He also proposed an ambitious plan to increase campus admission standards but failed to meaningfully involve – or even adequately inform – his presidents of the sweeping changes. The message soon became clear: It was Shirvani’s way or the highway. Instead of listening and adapting, he became more rigid and determined.

Most disturbingly, he orchestrated state Board of Higher Education meetings with inadequate public notices and agendas, resulting in violations of public meeting laws for at least one meeting. When confronted about his actions by his top legal counsel, Shirvani and board President Duaine Espegard forced out the lawyer. Both showed contempt for the open and accountable government North Dakotans deserve and expect.

All the while, Shirvani has been aided and abetted by the board, which repeatedly has voiced support for his actions and allowed the chancellor to operate as a loose cannon. The board has utterly failed to provide oversight. As a result, voters will vote next year on a misguided measure to replace the eight-member board with a three-member commission.

We’ve said before, the oversight problems of the higher education system are not structural. Blame rests entirely with Shirvani and the board, most notably with its president, Espegard. In order to prevent permanent damage to the higher education system, we call for Shirvani and Espegard to resign. It is clear their positions have become untenable. For the good of higher education, critical to North Dakota’s success, they must go.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.