ND Legislature Considering Vote Of No Confidence In Chancellor Shirvani

New Chancellor

There has been tension between the North Dakota legislature and the university system since the 2011 session, and last week things came to a head last week over changes the State Board of Higher Education and Chancellor Hamid Shirvani have tried to push through to an IT building being built on the University of North Dakota campus. A large chunk of the building’s floor space, intended to consolidate the university system’s IT workers in one place, was to be used for a lavish part-time office for Chancellor Shirvani (complete with cherry-wood paneling, legislative sources tell me) according to changes made to the plans by the university system.

Not only that, but the IT building was to house the university system’s new data center, but now that data center is being put in an older building due to space constraints. “If you remember the new data center – the high priority reason given to the legislature – was supposed to be the top priority but that is being placed in a 40 year old UND plant services building next to the railroad tracks, gas line and a tower precisely were a secure data center should not be next to,” a UND source emailed me over the weekend. “So the ‘new’ data center gets placed in an old building in a bad location while the emphasis was placed on a new office building to collocate the IT workers. Then 24 of them are told not to relocate after to make room for the chancellor.”

UND President Bob Kelley refused to sign off on the changes, pointing out that the legislature appropriated funds for an IT building not an office for the chancellor. Over the weekend SBHE President Duaine Espegard sent out an op/ed belittling the legislature’s concerns over the issue, and that’s only added fuel to the fire.

“The guy has no respect here,” said one House legislator to me about Espegard. Just how little respect may be made quite clear in the coming weeks.

I have heard news from multiple sources that a bill is being readied to call for the resignation of Chancellor Shirvani. The bill will either be in the form of a resolution expressing a lack of confidence in the chancellor, or a specific appropriation added to the university budget for buying the chancellor out. I’m told by multiple legislators that Fargo Senator Tony Grindberg, known to be a close ally of NDSU President Dean Bresciani who is also feuding with Shirvani, is the source of the legislation. I’ve reached out to him to confirm the rumors.

Legislators are also making it clear that they’re willing to hold up three nominations to the State Board of Higher Education made by Governor Jack Dalrymple last year if something isn’t done about Shirvani, something executive branch sources say they’re concerned about.

Earlier this legislative session during a visit to the capitol I was told that Shirvani may not last to the end of the year as chancellor. I had a hard time believing it then, but I believe it now. But it’s worth remembering that a change in faces at the university system isn’t going to fix anything. After decades of problems, we need fundamental changes to how the university system is governed.

And then there’s this sent in by a reader: “If we keep letting UND and NDSU presidents chase chancellors out of town, why even have one?”

That’s a fair point. It’s really, really hard to root for anyone in North Dakota higher education right now.

Update: Per the comments, it’s worth remembering that this wouldn’t be the first vote of “no confidence” for Chancellor Shirvani.

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. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • camsaure

    Espegaard will throw him under the bus just to save his sorry butt. How very Obamalike. I have a better idea, let’s get rid of Shirvani, Espegaard and Shaft, and then change the status quo for the future on the handling of education. Also get the SBHE under the control of the legislature, better to have them accountable to Liberals, RINOs and a few conservatives then being accountable to no one.

    • RCND

      lets just get rid of the SBHE and start the University System governance method over from scratch

      • camsaure

        By God, I think you have a better idea.

  • whowon

    Unbelievable, your last sentence summed it up well. We need to pull these fools back, I not only want him gone, I don’t want another payoff. We already overpaid him. Where do we go from here? Who do we contact?

  • Captornado

    If only there was a way to reform the Higher Ed system in this State.

    • RCND

      It starts with changing the governance system. It simply has to start there

  • OldConserv2011

    “or a specific appropriation added to the university budget for buying the
    chancellor out.” I’ve had some experience in managing poor performers and I have to say that not once, have I ever had to buy out a poor performer. If he’s not cutting it, point his butt towards the door and give him a shove. This notion of buying him out is ridiculous. Fire him. Then do away with the Chancellor position. And then, make it clear to the university presidents that if they do not perform, they will suffer the same fate as that California reject Shirvani. By the way, that should have been our first clue. If he couldn’t pass the mustard in California, why in the hell would we want him?

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      The problem is, I think he’s got a contract which would make a buyout necessary.

      • whowon

        makes sense. Just makes me sick.

      • camsaure

        Then the expense of that P poor decision should come out of the SBHE budget and the university system, not the general fund.

      • BaffledIND

        I see your point. However, under that contract, does it not say that he has to have a certain level of performance. I would hope/pray that the State of North Dakota did not offer a 3/4 of a million $ contract without the stipulation of performance.

  • http://pocketjacksblog.blogspot.com Jay W.

    It’s like the Dark Tower Series… wheel of Ka and all that. You’d think they would have seen this possibility coming.

    • 123WTF

      Oh they did. It was pretty obvious that this was bound to happen. A vote of NC in California and closed sexual harassment cases and the SBHE said sure, come to ND.

  • ec99

    “If we keep letting UND and NDSU presidents chase chancellors out of town, why even have one?”
    Unhappy but true. ND already has a sorry track record. Two incompetent insiders and one guy who was given the boot in favor of the NDSU crook. The reputation is already there. Why do you think we got a guy from a fourth-tier California university this time around?

  • RobertD

    It is really disappointing to see such a poorly researched and inflammatory piece that certainly is not factual except that Senator Grindberg may be drafting a legislative resolution. (Guess he is still mad his fellow Senator and candidate for Chancellor Tim Flakoll was not given the position)

    Having spoken with some people who are very close to the issues I can say with 99% confidence that all staff are being relocated to the new building. Providing space for the Chancellor to have an office has no impact. In fact the number of people who can be placed in the facility have not been affected by the action at all.

    The decision to separate the data center from the personnel building was made before Shirvani arrived and was approved by the legislative committee responsible for such review.

    There are no plans that call for cherry wood paneling according to my source.

    I believe if the true facts were sought instead of sensationalizing the story then the citizens of North Dakota would be better served.

    Has anyone asked if the president or administration at UND ever called the Chancellor and expressed concern over the Chancellor having an office in the building before sending the memo? Did they speak to anyone else at the system office?

    Those opposed to the Chancellor may have him leave, but the state will not be better off and it will be just one more scar on our poor record of governance of higher education. The primary culprits are probably the UND and NDSU presidents, their legislators and I hope this time not including the Governor as occurred in the Potts debacle.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      The problem is the university system as a whole, from the presidents to the chancellor. It’s one scandal after another.

      • RCND

        And no one is willing to even attempt to hold anyone accountable. How many charges have been filed regarding the DSU scandal? Rhetorical question of course because you are the only one writing about that issue and thus know well what the answer is.

    • opinion8ed

      Print you proof. This would be a perfect time to make all facts public by all parties so the taxpayers who are paying for this know the whole truth. Start with the blueprints and artist rendering

    • BaffledIND

      Really, you think moving the chancellor from the center of the state and the middle of his university system to the east side will have no impact. Have you not heard the complaints from WSC, DSU, and MSU? Should they be left in the west, in the middle of a boom, to die? I think if anything, there recent scandals prove that they should have an eye kept on them. I would agree with the other statements that good/fresh leadership is necessary to restore our higher education system.

  • Ham the Sham

    North Dakota higher education is the laughing stock of the nation. Unfortunately we’re stuck with the results.

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