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Hamid Shirvani, Published May 23 2013

Letter: Story full of factual errors

I am writing to correct some of the glaring errors in The Forum “exclusive” last Sunday: “Higher Ed Board torn over Shirvani criticisms.” I’m providing just two examples of Forum statements, followed by the factual corrections. The story is full of similar errors caused by mischaracterization and cherry picking emails obtained in open records requests and using them out of context.

Forum version: “At all three of the meetings the attorney general later ruled were violations of state law, board members asked Claire Holloway, the university system’s top attorney, if they were breaking open meetings law, and she told them they were not.”

Truth: The three meetings occurred on Jan. 16, Feb. 26 and Mar. 6. Holloway was not even present at two of these meetings, so could not have provided the guidance The Forum says she gave. The only one she attended was on Feb. 26, and she did advise that the Feb. 26 meeting did not need to be an open meeting. This was based on her reading at the time of NDCC 15-10-07, which defines a quorum for SBHE. As your readers know, the board is taking steps to ensure it understands and complies fully with open meetings laws.

Forum version: An earlier open records request by The Forum showed that (North Dakota State University President Dean) Bresciani had bristled at Shirvani stepping into the controversy without telling him. On Jan. 30, Shirvani announced NDUS staff had requested Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem research the law and issue a written opinion. The following day, Bresciani emailed the grant recipients to let them know he was disappointed to be caught by surprise by the request from Shirvani.

Truth: President Bresciani was fully aware that we were going to request the opinion. During that time, Holloway was on the telephone almost daily with Chris Wilson, General Counsel for NDSU, regarding the Planned Parenthood matter, and they discussed the request for the attorney general opinion on multiple occasions. As SBHE policy dictates, only the North Dakota University System office may ask for such opinions, the request had to come through our office rather than NDSU.

Wilson and Holloway discussed the substance of that request and the legal analysis underlying the grant frequently, and we understood he was in close contact with President Bresciani during that time as well. The Forum calls this discussion a “scandal.” Since when is fully discussing an issue that could have a significant impact on the system a scandal?

We felt it was important for your readers to get the right information so that they can draw their own conclusions about The Forum’s “exclusive” story.

Shirvani is chancellor of the North Dakota University System.