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Dave Kolpack, Published July 29 2013

Better grades for ND presidents post-Shirvani

FARGO – Several North Dakota college presidents have gotten much better job reviews since the departure of the state university system chancellor.

Hamid Shirvani’s draft evaluations of the 10 college presidents were made public after the state Board of Higher Education voted June 3 to buy out the final two years of his three-year contract, following an ongoing controversy about Shirvani’s management style. Shirvani was scheduled to begin administrative leave on July 15.

But the board said during its June 20 meeting that Shirvani didn’t follow proper procedure on the reviews, including a board policy that requires chancellors to sit down with the presidents and discuss the comments. The board placed Shirvani on immediate leave and later ordered interim chancellor Larry Skogen, himself the president of Bismarck State College, to update the evaluations.

Skogen gave the presidents the option of approving Shirvani’s draft and salary recommendations or meet with him to suggest and justify changes to their reviews. Four of them – North Dakota State University’s Dean Bresciani, the University of North Dakota’s Robert Kelley, North Dakota State College of Science’s John Richman and Minot State’s David Fuller – opted for a second look.

Shirvani had criticized Bresciani and Kelley for a “lack of vision” and said Fuller “exercised a form of myopic leadership” and a “clear lack of respect” for sister institutions. Shirvani was unhappy with Richman for “posturing” in front of the higher education board during a discussion on tuition.

Their updated evaluations are mostly favorable.

“Those earlier comments were expunged,” Fuller said Monday. “They should have been expunged. Those were not acceptable. I’m appreciative of the board and acting chancellor for what they did.”

Richman said he didn’t disagree with everything in Shirvani’s draft, but some of the information was inaccurate.

“I don’t want to paint it all bad because there were some good things that came out of last year, but you just listen and learn from it,” he said.

Bresciani issued a statement crediting Skogen for making the evaluation “a collaborative process.” UND officials did not respond to phone and email messages asking for comment from Kelley. Shirvani could not be reached for comment.

Shirvani recommended a 4 percent raise for Skogen, 3 percent for Bresciani and Richman; and no pay hikes for Kelley and Fuller.

Skogen said he planned to offer the board three options on pay raises, but he wasn’t specific. Asked about the possibility of no raises for some of them, Skogen said, “Only if the board chooses to. That would not be one of my recommendations.”

The summary of Bresciani’s and Kelley’s reviews finalized by Skogen start with the same line: “This has been a very successful year ... under your leadership.” Fuller’s evaluation notes that he “has developed an exceptional faculty and staff at your institution” and Skogen is impressed with his “attempts to strengthen morale.” Richman was lauded for building a great team of people, focusing on data analysis and developing partnerships with private business.

“Hopefully, people can appreciate the position that I’m in here,” Skogen said Monday. “I want to elevate the conversation here to education and student learning and outcomes.”

The board is scheduled to discuss the reviews and decide raises at Wednesday’s meeting in Bismarck.

State Republican Rep. Al Carlson, the House majority leader from Fargo, wasn’t putting a lot of stock in either the evaluations by Shirvani or the updates by Skogen.

“First of all, they shouldn’t have allowed a man that they terminated to write an evaluation of the people when he’s walking out the door,” Carlson said. “It would have been very hard for him to be objective. Obviously, he was not on the same page with some of the college presidents. So, for him to do that I think was wrong.

“Second thing, Larry Skogen is still going to be – when this is all over – a college president. He’s not going to in my opinion write anything too negative about the guys he works with every day.”

The state Legislature has been critical of the higher education leadership and offered several proposals during the last session to change the way the colleges are managed. Shirvani has said he was given a mandate when he was hired to overhaul the system and fix problems, including low graduation rates.