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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published July 31 2013

College accreditation group plans ND visit to follow up on complaint

College accreditation group plans visit to N.D.

By Tj Jerke

Forum News Service

BISMARCK – The new president of the State Board of Higher Education said she is very concerned about a fall visit by a national university accreditation group following up on a complaint about the governance of the North Dakota University System.

The Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission will be in North Dakota this fall to evaluate the university system and state board’s relationship with the 11 colleges the board oversees and the commission accredits.

“We have to take this very seriously and as a board we will be able to get through this, but we have some work to do,” board President Kirsten Diederich said. “It is a governing issue, so it is our issue to work with.”

The state board will be working with the commission to determine the dates of the visit.

Diederich announced the commission’s visit during a state board meeting Wednesday in Bismarck, where she announced her goals for the board as the new president.

One goal will be to have a self-evaluation of the board and training to address the issues that the board faced the past year, including the complaint filed in April by former Valley City State University President Ellen Chaffee.

In her letter, Chaffee identified issues that “do raise questions about the institutions” and the compliance with the Higher Learning Commission’s Criteria for Accreditation, pointing out a lack of communication between institution presidents and the board as well as the leadership of former Chancellor Hamid Shirvani.

Highly unusual visit

The state board received a letter from Higher Learning Commission President Sylvia Manning in May, and soon replied back with details on how the state board was working to deal with the allegations in the complaint.

In a phone conversation with acting Chancellor Larry Skogen earlier this week, and in a letter the state board received Monday, Manning said the response from the state board and system office did not adequately address the issues raised in the commission’s May letter. As a result, they will be doing an advisory visit to the system office this fall.

Skogen told the board Wednesday he couldn’t overestimate the importance of the visit because it is highly unusual for the Higher Learning Commission to visit a system office since it accredits only individual universities.

The commission accredits more than 1,000 colleges and universities in 19 states, including North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Institutions must meet criteria such as upholding integrity and recognizing diversity to merit accreditation.

Skogen and Diederich said the visit will be good for the state board and University System.

“It’ll give the board an opportunity to say we will make some changes,” Diederich said.

Manning is requiring the University System to gather information about its governance structure for the fall visit.

Chancellor search

As the state board prepares for the fall visit, it will be conducting its search for a full-time chancellor. The Association of Community College Trustees, a nonprofit organization of governing boards, is helping with the process.

So far, 15 applicants are vying for the position Diederich said she hopes to fill by the end of September.

Diederich and the state board have looked over 10 of the applicants’ resumes so far.

“We have some qualified applicants,” she said. “I’m pleased to hear there are 15.”

Diederich said the board plans to interview three or four candidates for the interim position and would like to offer a contract by the end of September. The state board’s next meeting is Sept. 25 in Bismarck.

Skogen is vying for the position. He took on the acting chancellor position in June after the state board removed Shirvani.

Skogen has maintained his presidency at Bismarck State College. He said Wednesday that he’s happy with the progress that’s been made in the University System the past 30 days and, “I didn’t feel it would be right to jump ship now.”

He said there are big things going on now with the Higher Learning Commission, finding a new president for Minot State University and the day-to-day operations of the University System.

“I think we’ve calmed things down,” he said. “Some of the turmoil over the last year dissipated very quickly.”