Minutes Show Student “No Confidence” Votes Politically Motivated


Various student government groups around the state are working very hard to promote the idea that there is some sort of a student uprising against embattled Chancellor Hamid Shirvani. Frankly, I’ve been a little skeptical.

Most of these student governments are a bit of a joke. Very few students actually vote to elect those serving in the governments, and for good reason. They’re usually little more than rubber stamps for the university administrations. I’d like to see the results from a name recognition survey for members of the student governments on some of these campuses. Because I’m willing to bet that few of the rank-and-file students have even heard of these people.

So, right off the bat, I’m not sure these student groups have any sort of a real mandate to speak on behalf of the students. But still, the various student governments along with the North Dakota Student Association have been getting a lot of headlines with their “no confidence” votes. The latest is the student senate at the University of North Dakota.

But I did some digging over the weekend, and came up with the minutes for the minutes for the NDSA meeting on February 22nd, 2013, at which the statewide organization held their vote of no confidence. According those minutes, which you can read in full below, NDSA lobbyist (yes, they have their own lobbyist) Johan Mahlum said “if we find substantial evidence and he is removed and we support it, we will look better and we will gain political benefit.”

The emphasis there is mine, and the sentiment should raise some eyebrows. It would be interesting to hear, from Mr. Mahlum, just what “political benefit” the NDSA hopes to curry with this vote. And from whom that benefit is to be received.

Reading the minutes, it becomes clear that Mr. Mahlum and SBHE student representative Sydney Hull were pushing the NDSA pretty hard for this vote. Which smacks of top-down orchestration, not some sort of a bottom-up, grassroots upheaval against Shirvani.

Which, of course, is very different from how these student votes are being portrayed in the media.

NDSA Minutes by

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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  • Dustin Gawrylow

    No doubt campus presidents were explaining to them how they would benefit politically. It’s all a game to these people.

  • Nelly

    The usual student suspects from the same suspect institutions. Interesting. I thought Mr. Hull was a state board member not a member of NDSA from NDSU. Is he both. Would not that be a conflict of interest or at least he speaks more for one institution than the others. I see the past student board member from NDSU was also in the mix. No conflict there since he voted against Shirvani.

    • Joe

      The North Dakota Student Association nominate 3 people for the position of the student member of the SBHE ever year and send those nominations to the governor, who appoints one of the members. While many SBHE student members end up distancing themselves from NDSA by the end of the term (much to the consternation of the NDSA membership), it’s very hard to become the student member without first having been in NDSA. Mr. Hull actually had very little involvement with NDSA prior to his appointment, but this is the first case of that in the 5 or so years I’ve had familiarity with the organization, and he was a last-minute addition to the bill of nominees as one of the nominees withdrew.

      As far as there being any conflict of interest, the state board member is not allowed to be a voting member, and while they are supposed to use NDSA to get input about what the student interest is, the board member is accountable to the governor, not NDSA.

      • Roger

        That is bull. The student, if you do your research, is the only member that is to represent a particular constituency. Mr. Hull represents Sen Grindberg, Tim Flakoll, and Dean Brescani more than anyone. Yes the Governor is probably also involved in this.

        • joe

          I’ve been involved in these organizations. I’ve done a hell of a lot more research on this than you have. The thing you call me on, that the student member is the only voting member to have a constituency more specific than the people of North Dakota, is something which I don’t dispute. It’s also something that I didn’t see as necessary to point out as I was only explaining what the link between NDSA and the student member of the SBHE. I was giving context, not making an argument one way or the other. It’s sad that everyone has to presume that everyone is always either for or against another person.

          The idea that students are representing the legislators or pawns of the legislators is insulting and factually incorrect. The legislators, for the most part, don’t give one flying fuck about us. The few good ones like Kathy Hawken and Kylie Oversen who actually support students as members of society within the state, I noticed, are conspicuously absent from your list. I mean seriously, Tim Flakoll? You might as well have just told all students in the state to go ram a rusty tube through their livers. NDSA as an organization has very few ties to the legislature, and they’re currently cutting most of them with these ridiculous stunts. But since I’m replying…

          However, on the other hand, NDSA is a comically bad lobbying group. I think you all don’t understand just how terrible they are as an organization at lobbying, which is their main function. This isn’t some dark conspiracy between student leaders and Grindberg, this is the vaudevillian distortion of what they think good politics is. Johan personally may have some issues, and four years ago he never would have become an officer in the organization, but his silly comment about political benefit is less ominous smoke and mirrors and more trying to light a cigar and having it explode in his face.

          Also, why has no one yet pointed out that none of these organizations have anything in any of their bylaws about holding no confidence in the chancellor or any other individual outside their organization? Clearly these votes have no power as far as the SBHE or legislature are concerned, but they also have no power or meaning to NDSA or the student senates themselves. It’s simply a buzzword they’ve been using to try to put pressure on Shirvani in a way that’s part Pyrrhic victory, part Groucho Marx.

          • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

            I’ll agree that the NDSA is a non-entity, but it is pretty clear their actions were and are being directed by the university presidents, at least,
            The students are being used as pawns.

          • Joe

            Students are pawns. They don’t like it (who would?) but the fact is this isn’t lollipop kesha glitter land and you still have to put your dues in to gain respect in the world. We don’t all get to start out as the queen. But there’s a way to get there, to build skills and clout and make a difference for those around you, and what they’re doing isn’t it.

      • Snowday

        Mr. Hull was appointed by the governor. I wonder if the governor has shared his opinion about this chancellor situation with Mr. Hull?

        • Joe

          I doubt it. Jack’s a quiet man, and he has more important things to do than lecture some college student about the concept of giving a guy a break.

        • Jonesy

          The Governor doesn’t have opinions on controversial issues.

      • CoolNdkd

        All of this would not have happened if Mike did not withdraw his name because of a conflict of interest. He would of changed the way NDSA and the 11 student govs handled state issues.

        • Joe

          I like Mike, but he couldn’t have changed it all by himself.

  • ND Observer

    Do remember that in 2012 the students from the state were SUPPORTING the Chancellor and his ideas. The change of opinion is most interesting, because they do not do that without cause and controversy. Shirvani’s arrogance and strong arm pronouncement, and lack of respect for people is the likely cause – i..e. bad style and leadership, not his ideas. No body likes an arrogant jerk and tyrant.

    • Jitter

      Nobody likes being told what they were doing before was insufficient.

    • Tall Tom

      Let’s see. He started in July and began his new academic initiative in August. he President’s started grumbling in September because he would no longer let them do everything they wanted. The students and student government did not complain until the presidents and the legislator’s gave them the signal at the first of February. Looks like they were led around by the nose to me.

      • ec99

        The presdents started grumbling when he started acting like a chancellor. UND and NDSU blanched when he brought up admission standards, which meant they’d have to allow students in who deserved to be at a university, and not any warm body who could sign a check. The mediocre schools had their feelings hurt when they were told they were mediocre. And the high school institutions didn’t like the reality that they were colleges in name only. But perhaps his greatest sin was he was forthright and told it like it was. No North Dakota Nice hypocrisy. People in this state don’t want to be told the honest truth; they prefer to be lied to as long as their feelings aren’t hurt. Which is why an in-state political hack will take the job. Everyone will be happy, but there will be no real higher ed in ND.

        • devilschild

          Four presidents were on the search committee when they hired the last chancelor. If they are having problems with him already then they didn’t do their homework before hiring him.

          • ec99

            My bet is Shirvani played his cards close to his vest during the interview, not revealing a whole lot. He came having the SBHE tell him they wanted major changes. He came up with a plan. That was a stone in the shoes of the presidents. They went to work on their legislator pals and the student sychophants to get him out.

  • Stuart


    Are you projecting this to justify you take on the students? A 94% disapproval rating from the staff in California should carry some weight to the students opinion.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      It’s worth remembering that happened right after he engaged the entire California university system by bringing Sarah Palin in for a visit.

      • Jonesy

        and instituted budget cuts….

      • Lucky Luke

        94% disapproval was way before Sarah Palin.

  • Jitter

    Vote your conscious [sic]…

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      College students…

      • Jitter

        Our college students, precisely.

    • ec99

      Even that’s kind of tough seeing most students spend their time unconscious.

  • ec99

    This is reflective of the enormous presumptuouness that these kids have that their opinion is worth more than spit. They have never made an important contibution to society in their life. They live off mommy and daddy, and when their major in General Studies doen’t get them a job, they’ll move back there. Nevermind that they have a functional vocabulary of 500 monosyllabic words and could carry on a sophisticated conversation if their life depended on it. In short, products of K-12 public education.

    • RandyBoBandy

      Most student governments require reperesentation for. Each academic major. So your assumption about general studies is totally false. Others have also contributed greatly to the campus or hold productive jobs. Please at least use facts when attempting to insult students.

      • ec99

        As students, what productive jobs? Waiters? Shoe salesmen? The point is, they have a sense of importance far beyond their real status. The fact that maybe 4% of the total student body even bothers to vote in these elections shows what their compatriots think of them.

        • RandyBoBandy

          As a good conservative you should know that any job is a productive job because it helps teach people responsibility and the value of a dollar. Only the students are at fault for low voter turnout, not the elected leaders. Roughly 43% of Americans did not vote in 2012. Using your logic that is the fault of Obama and congress for being bad candidates. I would certainly argue that the opinion of student governments is actually very important, even perhaps more important than the inflammatory opinion of blog commenters (ec99, not Rob).

          • Enough is Enough

            The student leaders did not care to get students out to vote except for them. The NDSA leaders hope to curry favor with legislators to get into politics later on. That is why when Sen Grindberg said just the NDSA and NDSU students said how high. They also want the local support of the college administration.

            Enough is enough. The students might as well be wearing hoods the way they have gone after Shirvani. This is even racial for some of them.

          • Citizen

            Really, RandyBoBandy? Racist? Get real. There is no behind the scenes conspiracy between Grindberg and the NDSA.

          • Tall Tom

            Then you are extremely naive.

          • RandyBoBandy

            Just to clarify, Enough is Enough made the racist remark claims and not myself. No argument puns intended.

          • ec99

            When I was a student decades ago, no one ever voted for student councils. The Greeks ran it. Nice try at the straw man fallacy, though.

          • RandyBoBandy

            You stated that the low student voter turnout showed what their peers thought of them, implying a negative point of view. I transposed your logic to national elections by comparing low turnout to people viewing them as bad candidates. There was no straw man argument there, but nice try.

  • Roy_Bean

    This is all designed to keep the focus on the chancellor and to keep the focus off the broken system.

  • Jezz

    If it looks like a donkey, speaks like a donkey, smells like a donkey……its a jackass!!!

  • rusty9

    Request under Open Records the minutes of each Studnet Cabinet organization at all 11 state colleges/universities, for the three months prior to their vote on the Chancellor (except the two or three days prior to them all heading to Bismarck to vote) …and you will probably find NO discussion on how bad and terrible the Chancellor is. I believe this whole thing was/is being pushed certain college/university Presidents and a few legislators. Interesting to note, the only college President (according to some media and one TV station even had video of him sitting there) who was sitting in when the students voted in Bismarck, was President John Richman from Wahpeton College of Science. Wonder why he was there? Certain college and university Presidents do not believe that theyshould have to answer to anybody!

  • ND Student

    Wow I think this is crazy. You should look into the facts before you start making assumptions. I can tell you for a fact that many if not alll of the NDUS Student Governments never talked to their Presidents. If they did it was not to know what they thought they are the STUDENTS making decisions for the STUDENTS! All they are doing is trying to make good decisions for students.

    • Roger

      No the Presidents and their administrators did there work behind the scenes and with a very few select students who generated the issues. This was we orchestrated. I know for sure it was at Minot.

  • borborygmi

    The state legislature wants this to be a republican board with the new proposals. I suppose this wouldn’t be political. The history was to set it up so it wasn’t politcal.

  • devilschild

    Typical North Dakota…treat the newby like crap, blame him for everything, if he complains tell him to take hike. Don’t you people ever get tired of the same routine?

  • Simon

    This is the same demographic that overwhelmingly voted for Obama. Expecting sound judgment from them is truly an exercise in futility.

    • JoeMN

      This would apply to faculty, administrators, all the way up to Shirvani himself

      • Simon

        You’re right, they all have poor judgment. It’s a good bet that Shirvani himself practices self-loathing. He should take the cash.

  • Clint F

    Both NDSU and UND’s student government had representatives testifying in favor of the queer rights bill in the Senate, each claiming to represent the entire student body at their institution. Yeah, right. Half the students probably aren’t even aware of the existence of these people or their little student government clique.

    • joe

      North Dakota has no place for the kind of commie idiots who are not for human rights and individual liberties. Leave and go somewhere your freedom-hating anti-American rhetoric is welcome.

  • Roger

    Reading the minutes it appears eight of the eleven institutions represented at the meeting had done no polling of their students and took no official position on the no confidence vote. I have not read that in any media story except this one. Clearly this was an NDSA driven vote driven by the administrators at the institutions who refuse to accept leadership and want to drive a strong Chancellor out of office.

    The SBHE say they suppprt Shirvani but I expect they will cave. If they do then The bill to abolish the SBHE should pass because it is clear they cannot reign in the Presidents. The Board should be replaced with an elected Chancellor with full authority and the entire appropriation as a lump sum must go to that individual to disperse to the institutions. As long as the funds are allocated by the legislature to the institutions there will be no change in behavior. Those presidents who were behind this movement should likewise be dismissed this Spring so that the remaining presidents and future presidents know this type of behaviour will not be tolerated. The NDSA should also have to face an vore from the students on whether there is confidence in them and also if they still want student fees deducted to pay for the organization and its lobbying activities.