The Lunatics Are Running The Asylum In The North Dakota University System


Today comes news that another North Dakota University System Chancellor is about to be pushed out of office after a revolt by university presidents. Leading the charge in this push is North Dakota State University loyalist (and former double-dipping employee) Senator Tony Grindberg, who today announced an amendment authorizing funds to buyout Shirvani, and the impetus for the move is a dispute between UND President Robert Kelley and Chancellor Shirvani over a lavish office which was to have been included in the new IT building on the UND campus.

So, much like the show down from years ago between former Chancellor Robert Potts and former NDSU President Joe Chapman, we once again have university presidents against the university system. And the presidents, once again, are winning.

That shouldn’t surprise us. The university presidents have spheres of influence much larger than the chancellor’s or the board’s. The presidents of the universities have legislators loyal to them, not the university system. So when it gets down to brass tacks, the presidents have more power than the chancellor.

In short, the lunatics are running the asylum.

I am probably one of the most outspoken critics of higher education in North Dakota, and I have said from the beginning that the problem with higher education in this state is the way it’s governed. Which is to say, it isn’t governed very well at all. There are no elected leaders directly accountable for governing the university system, and we can see that the SBHE and the university system chancellor only provide the appearance of governance as long as the university presidents don’t revolt.

I won’t be sorry to see Shirvani go (and I do think he’s going), but his departure doesn’t fix what ails the university system. It highlights the problems inherent to the system. The university system can no longer be trusted to govern itself.

The independence of the university system must be ended. Someone directly accountable to the taxpayers, someone who the university presidents cannot push out, must be in charge.

Rob Port is the editor of 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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  • Enough with the Corruption

    Well said Rob. Well said.

  • zipity

    Sadly, I suspect we are more likely to see Joe Biden say something that makes sense than have the Higher Ed System in this State brought under control…

    • RCND

      Only if we don’t try… but yes it will be a lot of work

  • flamemeister

    “The Lunatics Are Running The Asylum In The North Dakota University System”

    And how is that different from the rest of the world?

  • Alan

    I am not sure putting the institutions directly under the Governor will do much to solve the root issues of academic quality, the amount of time it takes to get a degree, cost of tuition, or institutional excesses.

    The institutions will ensure the Governor is invited to the major sporting and public events at the institutions, they will work for his re-election and political agenda as long as he allows them to do pretty much what they please as long as he is not publicly tied to any scandal. Of course, the Governor will make sure things don’t come to light through his control of other agencies.

    In the meantime higher education will not be able to replace departing President’s and others with competent leadership because of the bad reputation the state already has due to constant political interference and power struggles.

    We are the losers in the process by tolerating and promoting the situation.

    • Rob

      Constant political interference?

      We don’t have enough interference from elected leaders. That’s why we have so many problems with fraud, waste and abuse.

      • LibertyFargo

        what if the SBHE was comprised of elected officials (like a sub-committee)? at least then there would be some accountability at the ballot box perhaps?

        • Rob

          I wouldn’t necessarily be against that, but that might be problematic in that legislators represent geographic areas. What if the commitee was loaded with Minot-area legislators who might be inclined to be more friendly to Minot State as opposed to the other institutions?

          • LibertyFargo

            I hear you. I just wonder what kind of reforms will actually happen that might allow for at least a little accountability. A number of people are calling for an end to the SBHE and while I’ll be the first person to sign a “throw the bums out” petition, i don’t think that is going to happen. Maybe make the board a board of elected officials. Like running for any other state office? At least then we could point out where there support is coming from and have the opportunity to vote someone else into office if they are sub-par or not working for the benefits of the taxpayers of the State of North Dakota.

          • Jonesy

            Although electing the board seems like it’d be a good idea, the result would be a board consisting primarily of people from Fargo due to the population distribution of the state. That would not be good for 10 of the 11 campuses.

          • LibertyFargo

            maybe? maybe not.

            You could allocate a position from each region. I don’t know how many currently sit on the SBHE but you could put 6 spots at the table and break the state into 6 equal-ish parts? Similar to state senators perhaps with districts or county groups based on population? Heck… maybe one rep from each county with a university in their county/district?

            I hear your concern but I’m still not sure it would be worse than what we have now….

          • mutt

            one from each university ?

          • LibertyFargo

            I don’t know… in fact, I don’t know if any of it matters while a SBHE exists? Some process by which taxpayers have a more direct say would be great. Obviously our “say” through our legislators isn’t working because they don’t have the cojones to keep the SBHE and the PUBLIC Universities in-line.

          • OldConserv2011

            but that might be problematic in that legislators represent geographic areas. What if the commitee was loaded with Minot-area legislators who might be inclined to be more friendly to Minot State as opposed to the other institutions?

            Easily solved. Form an elected board from regions. Divide the state into six regions: NW – (UNDW), North Central (MSU & Bott.), NE (UND), SW (DSU), South Central (BSC) and SE (NDSU & Wahp)- One representative from each region, elected on two year alternating cycles with a one term limit. Accountable to no one but their electors and responsible for oversight of taxpayer resources.

          • OldConserv2011

            Forgot Mayville, but probably should fall into the NE region

  • Lianne

    Rob, maybe they should hire you to Vet the next chancellor. I do remember when one of the board memebers was supposedly over in India interviewing a candidate for the position a couple of years ago. When I called the board office I was transferred directly to their attorney. All seemed strange to me, an outsider.

  • NDConservative2011

    The count is “Strike 2″ in the chancellor ball game. President Chapman threw his weight around in his successfull attempt to rid the state of a very good chancellor in Robert Potts. Remember Chapman was doubling down on unnecessary programs at NDSU as well as spending far more money on trips for himself and his family than the amount that the W.S.I. director spent on his employees, which cost him his job.
    Mr. Potts resisted, and it was D.T.R. (Down the Road) for him.
    Now the system has a chancellor from California who has no concept of the values of our state no does he value our taxpayers. His ideas of outlandish spending on an office, his requests for approximately 130 unnecessary new employees are all things that broke the California higher education system, and Shirvani wishes to instigate the same in our state. It is getting quite costly these days not only to pay a chancellor, but to buy them out when they are removed for whatever reason.
    What is so frustrating is that as president of the Board of Higher Education, Duaine Espegard is throwing his full support behind a failed leader, and that says a lot about Espegard’s leadership, or rather, the lack thereof.
    The Board of Higher Education jumps from one debacle to another in their failed attempts to govern a runaway system, and when the legislature questions the system, they are accused of playing politics.
    One wonders when this charade called leadership will ever come to a conclusion within the system. One can only hope that the citizens of North Dakota will cry enough is enough and demand a system that is workable as well as one that is properly governed.

  • splined

    Definitely time for some serious castrating, dehorning, and slaughtering when it comes to higher ed spending by state of ND.

  • Roy_Bean

    Just maybe we should start with new presidents instead of a new chancellor this time.

  • John_Wayne_American

    Put me in charge of higher ed, I’d can 15% of non teaching staff, consolidate purchasing accounting and payroll to the Mayville St Campus and move class rooms from there to Fargo and GF.

    to insure economic / education results, I’d

    1)limit enrollment to 2009 levels, and thus use HS grades as the funnel to clear the wheat from the chaff.

    2)I’d take the scholarship monies and refuse to give freshmen a dime for their first semester. If they cant work at McDonalds and Pizza Hut in HS or get local scholarships, or mom and dad money, to pay for at least one semester, they are slackers and don’t belong there either.

    3) after the first semester each student will meet with there advisor at which point their grades and attendance will be evaluated.

    4)upon the evaluation, a portion of their next semester scholarship money is granted and the process of attendance and educational performance to be evaluated again at the end of that semester.

    If your grades are not at a level to stay,the student can transfer out. But they would not be slacking on the taxpayer dime.

    if you want to piss away mommy and daddys money that’s your problem, but if you cant make the grades you are taking the spot of someone that wants to be there, and you’d still be packing up to go home.

    chances are, there wouldn’t be that many 5 or 6 year students and those that graduated would be highly sought after by employers.

    Isn’t that the whole reason for higher ed?

    • Robert Frost

      This shows your education level, seeing as how almost all scholarship money is privately raised. No government agency can govern how privately raised scholarship money is used. But keep trying, you’re almost there.