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Shirvani critic Porter says doing right thing was paramount

Doing the right thing was more important than doing the safe thing, said a North Dakota University System employee at the forefront of a firestorm surrounding her boss.

As allegations of misdoings have piled up against NDUS Chancellor Hamid Shirvani in recent weeks, Linda Baeza Porter, interim system office liaison officer for reporting and information, has been one of Shirvani's harshest critics.

On March 27, Porter testified before a House Appropriations subcommittee, saying that Shirvani presented misleading information and "alternate data" about school graduation rates to lawmakers in an effort to make North Dakota schools "look bad."

Another hearing related to Porter's testimony last month will take place today before a House committee in Bismarck.

"I know I could lose my job," Porter said. "But I also know that of all the people in that office, I have the least to lose. I don't have children and I'm old. If I lose my job over doing what's right, then that's what is going to happen."

Porter said she was asked by system employees to compile data for a March 18 presentation to the House appropriations education and environment subcommittee. She said Shirvani and Randall Thursby, the system's chief information officer, instructed her to change aspects of the data.

"There's only one reason why that was asked of me," said Porter, who indicated she refused to change her numbers. "That is for (Shirvani), when they ask about graduation rates, to stand up and say to the subcommittee 'that isn't right, it's this.'"

Porter -- who has said the information requested could be a potential violation of State Board of Higher Education policy and state open records and fraud statutes -- said she isn't interested in speculating on the intent of her superiors.

"I'm came forward because I have a responsibility to myself, the people I work with and the system to follow that state statute that says you need to come forward if you think something unethical is going on," Porter said. "The statute is very clear. I served four years in the military -- I'm stubborn. There are some great, great people on our campuses and they deserve better. It's all there. There's a tape, people can look at my emails -- don't just take it from me."

Since becoming chancellor last year, Shirvani has faced a well-publicized growing number of vocal critics including lawmakers, other state leaders and students at NDUS institutions. In his own testimony last month, Shirvani said the information Porter gave him for the subcommittee was simply "put into a different context" and that "nothing was changed."

Although she said after her testimony that she didn't believe she would be terminated for her whistleblowing, Porter said Thursday that her life has been "very stressful" lately and that she has found it difficult to do her job.

"I don't know what's going to happen at this point," Porter said. "There's a principle at work here. If I want to live an honest life, I have to be honest and I have to expect honesty from other people."

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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