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Next chancellor may not be named until 2015

BISMARCK -- The next permanent chancellor of the North Dakota University System may not start until 2015 -- or may not even be hired if a constitutional amendment is approved by voters next year.

The State Board of Higher Education voted unanimously Monday to release embattled Chancellor Hamid Shirvani from the remaining three years of his contract. His last day will be July 15, slightly more than a year after he began the job with a three-year contract.

University System spokeswoman Linda Donlin said Board President Duaine Espegard told staff Monday that the search for a replacement will start immediately. But that person will likely only lead the system of 11 public colleges and universities temporarily.

"They (board members) are committed to the unified system and the Pathways to Student Success plan, so they believe that it will take someone who will come for the long term to put those things into place," Donlin said.

"Duaine believes it could take as long as two years to find the right person for that," she said, "so in the meantime, they're going to look for someone who can lead the system while they're looking for the exact right person."

Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, said the decision about how to move forward after Shirvani's departure is entirely up to the board.

But he said there's a "pragmatic" consideration: a constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot in November 2014. If approved by voters, the amendment would eliminate the board and the chancellor's office in favor of a three-member commission of higher education appointed by the governor.

"Who would apply, not knowing the outcome of the election and if the chancellor position will be going away?" he asked.

Grindberg guessed the board will instead hire an interim chancellor to serve until after the election.

"Once the vote in November (2014) is taken, then either a search will begin for a permanent chancellor or the process will start by establishing three commissioners," he said. "So, either way, it will be sometime in 2015."

Donlin said she isn't sure whether the next University System leader would be given the title of interim chancellor or some other title. She said Espegard reached out Monday afternoon to a few people for consideration.

She said more details, including the full search process and when the board will start looking for a permanent replacement, needs to be determined in the coming days. Donlin said she expected more discussion June 20 during the board's next regular meeting in Bottineau.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, also guessed the board will look for an interim leader until results of the constitutional amendment vote to scrap higher education governance that's been in place since 1938 are known.

Carlson said Monday's announcement of Shirvani's departure after months of controversy likely won't have much of an impact on the vote.

"The people that are closely engaged with the whole process understand who it was and what was going on," he said. "But the average citizen I don't think is that engaged, and what we need to make sure is that the higher ed system itself keeps functioning and clicking along and providing education to those kids."