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Published July 30 2013

Forum editorial: A steady hand at higher ed

The selection of Larry Skogen to serve as interim chancellor of the North Dakota University System is one of the wiser moves made by the state Board of Higher Education. The Bismarck State College president took the job after discredited Chancellor Hamid Shirvani was sent down the road by the board. Shirvani’s tenure was distinguished by more controversy and dysfunction than had ever afflicted the university system.

Skogen is a steady hand. His experience as a campus president has been invaluable. His understanding of the other campuses, the state as a whole, and the Legislature has been pivotal in his efforts to stabilize the system. Respected by presidents of the schools, Skogen, in a relatively short time, tamped down the upset left in Shirvani’s wake, and in the process took the system off the front pages and airwaves. The breathing room he has provided for the system is crucial as the board embarks on a search for a new chancellor.

By his choice, Skogen is a short-timer in the job. But rather than rest comfortably as a run-in-place caretaker, he has been active and effective in restoring trust among system staff, campus administrators and board members. For example, he could have declined to redo Shirvani’s inaccurate and mean-spirited draft evaluations of the presidents. Instead, Skogen met with presidents most affected by Shirvani’s work, and after discussions with them revised the evaluations to fairly reflect the presidents’ job performances.

That single example of collaboration (among others) is in contrast to the autocratic behavior of the ousted chancellor. Shirvani apparently believed he could use his authority to conduct vendettas against presidents who dared to challenge him. And it appeared he was supported in that flawed notion by a gaggle of sycophants in the Legislature.

Thus far, Skogen has done excellent work for the university system and the individual campuses. It’s no easy task because fallout from the board’s self-made mess during the past year has not yet dissipated. But he’s off to a good start. He’s repairing the system’s foundation and restoring confidence in its leadership. At this point, North Dakotans can’t ask for more than that.

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