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Published June 19 2013

Forum editorial: Chancellor ‘evaluates’ presidents

You’ve got to hand it to outgoing North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani. He’s enhancing the image of autocrat he created in his short tenure on the job.

His latest headline-maker confirms the assessments of most North Dakotans who have seen him in action. In what can be characterized as a petty cheap shot, he finalized alleged evaluations of college and university presidents, some of which are highly critical of the presidents. And, we might add, unjustifiably critical.

Tellingly, the presidents who dared question and/or criticize the chancellor got the worst treatment in the chancellor’s evaluations. Others were roundly criticized for, by Shirvani’s lights, failing to advance research, failing to focus on specific kinds of tuition waivers or failing to properly oversee athletics.

Let’s concede some of the chancellor’s concerns are valid: oversight of sports, for example. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt on tuition waivers, which have been abused on a couple of campuses. Of course, nothing about those concerns is original with Shirvani.

That being said, the chancellor’s process of evaluating the presidents raises a red flag or two. His one-man show apparently strayed from generally accepted procedures for evaluating people in important jobs, and there are no more important jobs in the university system than the campus presidents. Several of them were, as a spokesman for North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani said, “surprised by the timing and analysis” of the evaluations. That’s polite-speak for suggesting the presidents were sandbagged.

Regarding timing and the failure of the chancellor to discuss the evaluations with presidents before release, Minot State University President David Fuller dryly said, “Apparently that’s been circumvented this time.” Fuller, who has been most outspoken in his criticism of the chancellor, was singled out by Shirvani as the lone president who should not have his contract renewed. Shirvani said Fuller’s leadership was “myopic” because it focused on Minot State at the expense of the broader higher education landscape. So, the university president is criticized for concentrating on his school? Apparently that’s a hanging offense in the chancellor’s world. Fuller is retiring next year, so the chancellor’s recommendation probably is meaningless.

Higher Education Board President Duaine Espegard reminded us that it is the chancellor’s job to evaluate presidents every year after their initial three-year contracts, but it appears the board is not embracing the current evaluations. Espegard said the board’s recommendations may differ. “I’m sure we’ll be fair,” he said. Now there’s a concept Shirvani should contemplate.


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