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Jennifer Johnson, Forum News Service, Published May 17 2013

Higher Ed official questions NDUS leaders

GRAND FORKS – A commission charged with accrediting the North Dakota University System is investigating a complaint filed by a former university president about the system’s leadership.

Ellen Chaffee, former president of Valley City State University, alleged the governance practices of the state Board of Higher Education and the system chancellor violate the Higher Learning Commission requirements for accreditation, according to a letter from the commission.

Chancellor Hamid Shirvani and state board President Duaine Espegard, who were sent the letter along with the 11 institution presidents within NDUS, must respond to the allegations by June 15. The commission could also send a visiting team to conduct a more extensive review if found appropriate, or it could dismiss the complaint, it stated.

“We are confident that when the HLC reviews our response, it will be assured that the complaint submitted is without substance,” said Linda Donlin, NDUS communications director.

Chaffee declined to comment.

The commission, based in Chicago, accredits more than 1,000 colleges and universities in 19 states, including North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Institutions must meet criteria such as upholding integrity and recognizing diversity to merit accreditation.

The letter stated Chaffee identified issues that “do raise questions about the institutions’ compliance with the Commission’s Criteria for Accreditation,” and “appear to be confirmed by information in the media.”

The issues, and the related commission criteria, are listed as the following:

E Best interest of the institution: Chafee alleged the chancellor has “acted with undue influence on the board to cut off its communications with the leadership of the institutions the board governs,” according to the letter.

Chafee also remarked on a lack of communication between institution presidents and the board, and that Shirvani has further “compromised and isolated” the board by presenting information about institutions “particularly with regard to retention and completion, that is not only negative but that the system auditor indicated could be construed as misleading.”

E Effectiveness of institutional leadership: Chaffee noted there was frequent employee turnover because the chancellor “terminated or furloughed individuals who disagreed with him” and has not replaced “key individuals, such as the chief academic officer, in a timely manner with permanent replacements.”

She said he has “publicly labeled some of the institutional presidents as insufficiently qualified or incompetent” and that he “severed communication between the institutional presidents and board.”

Chaffee also alleged Shirvani pushed forward his Pathways to Student Success reform plan, along with changes to admissions policies and presidential compensation and review policies that were adopted without proper consultation with campus leaders or the public.

E Integrity of institutional operations: Chafee has also said the board, with encouragement from Shirvani, violated open meetings laws, and she noted several times it “violated its own procedures that call for two readings of proposed policy changes and made significant policy changes in a single reading and without public comment.”


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Jennifer Johnson writes for the Grand Forks Herald