Let’s Choose A Third Way In The Battle Between The Chancellor And The University Presidents


“The board needs to take immediate decisive action to reverse recent policy changes and appoint a chancellor who has a solid proven record of effective trusted and respected leadership,” writes state Senators Tony Grindberg and Karen Krebsbach, as well as Rep. Lois Delmore in the Grand Forks Herald today.

These legislators want North Dakota University Chancellor Hamid Shirvani fired and replaced by someone more subservient to the presidents of the institutions which make up that system. Grindberg himself has been threatening (but has yet to introduce) an amendment to buy out Shirvani’s contract, and it should be no surprise that Grindberg (Fargo), Krebsbach (Minot) and Delmore (Grand Forks) all have in their districts universities (Minot State, UND and NDSU) whoere the presidents have clashed with Shirvani.

In fact, Grindberg was not so long ago an employee of NDSU President Dean Bresciani. As the head of the NDSU Research and Technology “center of excellence” Park Grindberg was allowed to double-dip on his legislative salary and expense a country club membership, gourmet meals and top-shelf booze.

But I digress.

Many of my legislative friends say they’re backing Shirvani in this showdown. They point out that if there is any hope of reform of North Dakota’s off-the-rails university system – which has become notorious for overspending, fraud and lackluster academic outcomes – somebody has to be able to govern the system. Nobody, they point out to me, will be able to govern the system if the university presidents can push out chancellors they don’t like. The university presidents got their way with former Chancellor Robert Potts after he ran afoul of former NDSU President Joe Chapman. Now the university presidents want Shirvani out too.

The question is, who do we side with in this conflict? Do we side with the university presidents who argue that Shirvani’s reforms are capricious, and even vindictive, or do we side with the Chancellor and the State Board of Higher Education who are struggling to govern a university system that has become ungovernable?

How about we side with none of the above?

These ceaseless wars between the universities, the university system and the legislature aren’t serving the taxpayers, nor the students, very well. What we need is fundamental reform to the way the university system is governed. We need a concrete leader in charge of the university system who can’t be undermined by coalitions of university presidents and legislators loyal to them. But we also need a leader for the university system who is accountable to the democratic process, so that his/her governance of the university system is reflective of the taxpayer’s wishes.

The “independence” of the university system must be ended, because it hasn’t served us well, and it must be replaced by leadership from an accountable official with the authority to propose and implement real reforms. Maybe that means putting the university system back under the control of the governor. Maybe that means voters should be electing a chancellor to head the system. What it doesn’t mean is going on as we are now.

The two sides in the chancellor versus university presidents battle are proposing two iterations of the status quo. But if there’s anything that’s clear in any of this, it’s that higher education in North Dakota needs changes. But before we can get change, we need to reform the way the system is governed so that change is possible.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • ec99

    Nothing will change until people recognize that higher ed in ND isn’t about ed. It’s all about money and power. Tom Dennis, in his editorial today urging to keep the universities in the Constitution, could really only argue economic impact to communities. As usual he ignored the sad statistics about graduation, dollars per capita student, and the fact that the four largest campuses account for over 80% of the enrollment. The changes that have to occur: an elected SBHE (no more political Republican hacks); a Chancellor with real clout; a system, not 11 separate entities (better yet, 4 campuses); run up against a ND mindset which not only resists change, but will do everything to stop it.

    • $8194357

      Its all about : money, power, crony capitalism
      and social engineering a leftist false moral utopia….


      Political Correctness with classical Marxism the parallels are very obvious.

      First of all, both are totalitarian ideologies. The totalitarian nature of Political Correctness is revealed nowhere more clearly than on college campuses, many of which at this point are small ivy covered North Koreas, where the student or faculty member who dares to cross any of the lines set up by the gender feminist or the homosexual-rights activists, or the local black or Hispanic group, or any of the other sainted “victims” groups that PC revolves around, quickly find themselves in judicial trouble. Within the small legal system of the college, they face formal charges – some star-chamber proceeding – and punishment. That is a little look into the future that Political Correctness intends for the nation as a whole.

  • Roy_Bean

    “When one door closes another door opens, but we so often look so long
    and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones
    which open for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell –

    In North Dakota we have the university problem, in the nation we have the postal service, both with “doors” which should have been shut years ago, and both with people trying desperately to keep them open beyond their time.

    When the constitution of North Dakota was written they didn’t envision the opportunities for distance learning provided by public TV and the internet. The University of Mary allows people to get 4 year degrees without ever setting foot on their campus. We all may be much better served by a system that makes use of modern technology than a system that preserves living museums of what higher education once was.

  • Drain52

    Couldn’t have said it better. When it’s taxpayer money being used, taxpayers should ultimately have the last say-so. When the universities are entirely self-funding they can talk about “independence.”

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob


      I’d love to see the university system privatized, but since that’s not likely to happen any time soon let’s make the university system directly accountable to the voters.

  • VocalYokel

    “Let’s Choose A Third Way…”

    How about dueling pistols?

  • jimmypop

    or why not call for the governor to do his job and appoint good people to the board of higher ed?

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      Because what good is the Board of Higher Ed when the presidents can gang together and do what they want anyway?

      The Board of Higher Ed can’t govern the system. That’s the problem.

  • SellTheSchools

    ND should hang on to the top performing schools and sell the others. Selling DSU to the private sector would be the best thing that could happen to them and the only chance of turning things around in a timely manner.

    Is that something the state can legally do?

  • Lynn Bergman

    Dump the higher Ed Board, make a carbon copy of Kirsten Baesler, and create a higher Ed Supt position.