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Dave Kolpack, Associated Press, Published June 19 2013

Incoming ND Higher Ed president wants fresh start

FARGO — The incoming president of the North Dakota Board of Higher Education is looking at her term as a fresh start for an organization that spent much of the last year answering complaints, including a kerfuffle over the chancellor the group hired and ultimately decided to replace.

Kirsten Diederich, of Fargo, takes over leadership of the board on July 1. She said she plans to promote transparency, accountability and trust, and will be “working to get our success stories out to the public,” including a fledgling Pathways to Student Success program meant to improve student retention and graduation rates.

“We are volunteer public servants who just want to ensure accessible quality education for our citizens, and I can only hope that we are given the opportunity to show what we can do for North Dakotans,” Diederich said.

The last several months have been especially tumultuous for the board as it dealt with the demise of University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani and allegations that the group violated the state's open meetings laws on several occasions. The board voted earlier this month to buy out the remaining two years of Shirvani's contract at an estimated cost of more than $925,000.

In the meantime, Shirvani's performance reviews of the college presidents released earlier this week include particularly harsh criticism of Robert Kelley from the University of North Dakota, David Fuller from Minot State and Dean Bresciani from North Dakota State University.

Shirvani recommended no raises for Kelley and Fuller. Kelley responded with a letter asking the board to assess his performance and decide Thursday on his salary increase.

Diederich said she would not discuss Shirvani's critiques of the presidents until the board takes up the issue, which is on the agenda Thursday.

“We as a board speak as a board,” she said.

Diederich will replace Duaine Espegard, of Grand Forks, who will be chairing his final monthly meeting when the group meets Thursday in Bottineau. Espegard cited the Pathways to Student Success plan as the board's greatest accomplishment in his tenure and said the only recommendation he had for Diederich was to continue support of the program.

Asked if he would have done anything differently in hindsight, Espegard said, “No . I don't want to . no.”

Meanwhile, Diederich's first task as president will be directing the search for a new chancellor. The board on Thursday is expected to set a deadline and other specifics for naming an interim chancellor.