Trouble Brewing Between Chancellor And Legislature Over Office Suite In UND Technology Building

New Chancellor

In the 2011 session North Dakota legislators approved $15.5 million to be spent on a new internet technology building on the University of North Dakota campus. The building is to provide 36,000 square feet for offices and a data center which, in turn, is to provide IT services to all 11 institutions in the university system.

But there’s big trouble brewing among legislators over changes Chancellor Hamid Shirvani made to the plans sources tell me.

Chancellor Shirvani changed the plans for the building to provide for what legislative sources are calling an “office suite” for himself and his staff including a conference room, a private restroom, a kitchenette and a private entrance.

Shirvani’s suite wouldn’t be small, according to my sources. It would displace 24 office cubicles intended for IT workers, according to the plan revisions.

“There will be a real effort to change that back and not allow that to happen,” a legislative source told me this morning.

I spoke with Grand Forks Senator Ray Holmberg this morning, who confirmed the rumors to me. “Whoever your leakers are, they’re knowledgeable,” he said.

Senator Holmberg stressed to me that the University of North Dakota wasn’t part of the plan changes. “[UND President] Bob Kelley refused to sign the change order to approve the offices, but he was overridden by the board,” Holmberg told me.

“It displaces 24 cubicles that would have been IT workers and replaces it with a chancellor’s office,” Holmberg said. I also spoke with NDUS spokesperson Linda Donlin this morning who also confirmed the plan changes to me, but she used the term “multiple use space.” Yet Senator Holmberg characterized the space differently.

“On the floor plans it says ‘Chancellor’s Office,'” he said. Another legislator, speaking off the record, told me the term “mulitple use” is “BS.”

“That’s not what the blueprints show,” my source said.

“The legislature should never be in the position where we are approving floor plans, but we approved the building to consolidate IT workers,” Holmberg told me noting that the changes are “controversial” in that the space wasn’t intended to provide an office for Chancellor Shirvani. Holmberg also noted that the university system had originally argued that the space was too small to consolidate all of their IT workers, but is now using up a large portion of that space for this office suite.

Holmberg said the issue of this building will be re-opened during a Senate committee hearing scheduled for Thursday next week at 10am. “We’re focusing on three building issues two of which won’t be controversial but this one will be,” he told me.

“They’re really flying in the face of what the legislature approved” Holmberg said.

Shirvani seems to have an increasingly uneasy relationship with the legislature. During a committee hearing earlier this session the Chancellor was called out on rumors of plans to dismiss certain university presidents, though the rumors were denied.

Update: Here is a scan of the revised blueprints including the new office suite for the chancellor:

Blue Prints For NDUS IT Building 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. 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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  • ec99

    Kelley pretty much realizes that Shirvani’s presence on the UND campus would attenuate his authority, likely reducing him to a figurehead. It might also affect his ability to hide under his desk every time damage control is needed.

    • Alan

      If this is being built on the UND campus isn’t the UND office responsible for buildings involved? If so, how can President Kelley say UND is not involved? Sounds like a power play by UND’s President to me. If he reported to me the President would be fired tomorrow.

      • ec99

        Doesn’t always work that way at NDUS. Chapman reported to Potts and it was Potts who was fired.

  • Drain52

    Once again illustrating that NDUS thinks it is a 4th branch of government.

  • RCND

    Outside this issue, which to use Rob’s source’s technical term… is BS, I would like to know what benefits would be gained from moving the NDUS to UND, and what ALL the motivations are in doing so. Keeping a thumb on Kelley may be one granted, but getting out of range of all the eyeballs in Bismarck is probably a bigger one.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Well, they’re not moving the NDUS to UND. This is supposedly just an office for Shirvani to use when he’s visiting there.

      A 2,300 square foot temporary office with a conference room and a kitchenette.

      • ACF1

        Thats as big as a house.

      • RCND

        That’s why it stinks to high heaven. The only need for such a large space and amenities is for some type of long term occupation.

  • ND Observer

    The other big scandal with this building project is Randall Thursby, the university -system CIO. Thursby works just PART-time our of Georgia and charges over $300,000 per year for this part time work. He has spent millions on software that has no users. He has become the Chancellor’s key adviser, so our Chancellor is getting his advice from an out of stater living in Georgia? No wonder he has a tin ear. But 2,2,00 sf for an Chancellors office replacing 24 office cubicles is outrageous. Lot of homes are not 2,200 sf and you would think the priority would be on co-locating 24 IT workers than a palace office.

  • reggy

    I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention during the chancellor’s hiring process. Were the other finalists any good? It really seems like the SBHE just flat-out whiffed on this hire.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Here’s how thorough they were. They didn’t even pick up on the fact that Shirvani had a secretary who had to be paid to go away.

      http://sayanythingblog.com/entry/somehow-the-state-board-of-higher-education-wasnt-aware-of-their-new-chancellors-secretary-problem/

      They paid big money for a background check of Shirvani, but it didn’t find that. I found it on like page 5 of the google results for Shirvani.

    • devilschild

      When he left his position in CA to come to ND the employees in CA were overjoyed. His staff planned going away parties that didn’t include him. They wished ND well… predicting dark days were ahead for the NDUS.

      There is a lot of negative material about him online. After reading it I had to wonder why ND hired him.

  • fsa41

    Once again you’re *massively* misinformed. Good grief, doesn’t anyone fact-check anymore? Click count over journalistic integrity…

    And by the way, it’s “Information Technology” not “Internet Technology”. I understand that’s more syllables but at least try to get it right.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Everything in the post is accurate. I think your problem is that it’s inconvenient for the university system.

  • jimmypop

    pigs will fly when something of substance is done to these people. they are kings until told otherwise.

    besides…what should matter is this; screw this little building corner…. how much per square foot does this building cost? then we ask our bismarck kings…how much per square foot do their homes cost? i bet we find they don’t spend their money at anything NEAR the rate they spend our money.

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