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Published June 04 2013

Forum editorial: Higher ed board faces new challenges

The North Dakota Board of Higher Education is going to have a tough time explaining the astonishingly generous severance package granted departing university system Chancellor Hamid Shirvani. While it appears the board is bound by the chancellor’s contract, reaction among most North Dakotans will be, understandably, outrage.

The chancellor, who was on the job only about a year, will ride out of North Dakota in July with a salary, benefits and retirement deal worth at least $900,000 and maybe as much as $1 million when unspecified health benefits are figured in. It will include not only the salary he will receive for not working for North Dakota for the next two years but also two raises – for not working. Would those be merit raises?

He will become a “consultant” to the board. What he will consult about is unclear, but let’s hope it’s not how to win friends and influence people. It was his failure in that regard that contributed to his premature departure. And if an interim chancellor is named to help undo the damage Shirvani did, does it make sense to have the discredited ex-chancellor consult about anything?

Well, that’s the board’s call. They are stuck with a contractual buyout agreement they are obligated to honor, no matter how grating it is to most North Dakotans.

The good news is board members finally acceded to the inevitable, even if they waited too long to get it done. They forced the university system, the Legislature and the people of North Dakota into a wagon-circling drama that handed higher education’s perennial antagonists a fat quiver of arrows. It’s a thin hope, but maybe those talk-radio, blogosphere and legislative “archers” have enough sense to refrain from taking shots while higher ed puts the Shirvani mistake behind.

Despite the yearlong sideshow, the university system is strong and effective. Led by capable and dedicated presidents, the campuses are accomplishing their missions: education, research and job creation. As a search for a new chancellor begins, higher education’s success should be the focus. That’s the board’s primary challenge.


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