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Board resolution supporting Shirvani passes 5-3

BISMARCK - The State Board of Higher Education passed a resolution stating it "endorses and gives its full support" to the efforts of Chancellor Hamid Shirvani during a special conference call Thursday, but three members of the eight-member board voted against the plan and said more discussion is needed to address lingering communication and transparency issues.

The resolution, authored by Grant Shaft, outlines the board's hiring of Shirvani last year to improve academic quality and implement best practices to the North Dakota University System, and highlights examples of Shirvani's work since July 1 to achieve those goals.

Shaft said the board has dealt publicly with many issues in recent months, including allegations against Shirvani raised by student representative Sydney Hull that were investigated and discussed in a special report last week that found "no substantive evidence of willful wrongdoing."

"It's necessary for us as a board to formally show our support for the chancellor, our university system staff and the policies of the board," Shaft said.

But Hull said the resolution was being pushed through too quickly, and pointed out some of the board members didn't have time to read the resolution that was emailed out shortly before Thursday's conference call.

"If we're going to pass a resolution we got an hour and a half before the meeting, without people even reading it before the meeting, I think that's a little ridiculous," he said.

Kari Reichert said she had a problem with passing a resolution that she viewed as giving " unqualified support" to the chancellor and the policy changes that have been approved in the past year, especially because she said there needs to be a more in-depth discussion on how to improve communications to the media, stakeholders and within the board.

"My concern is that I feel like we're missing a step here," she said.

Shaft said his resolution leaves the door open to those important discussions, ending with a paragraph saying the board "considers communication to be the key to effective governance" and affirms the board and Shrivani's responsibility to improve this.

President Duaine Espegard called for a vote, effectively ending discussion on the resolution, and said members needed to vote whether or not they supported the board and the chancellor.

But Hull said he didn't appreciate that "dichotomy" of either being for or against the board, a concern also raised by Reichert.

"I think my issue with this is I feel like it's oversimplified," Reichert said.

The board voted 5-3 to pass the resolution, with Hull, Terry Hjelmstad and Reichert voting no.