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Higher ed board rejects Shirvani's evaluations; acting chancellor offered chance to 'fix it'

Duaine Espegard, president of the State Board of Higher Education, leads the Thursday state board meeting at Dakota College at Bottineau.

BOTTINEAU -- The State Board of Higher Education on Thursday rejected former Chancellor Hamid Shirvani's annual performance evaluations of the 10 public university presidents, calling the language he used repugnant, offensive and unprofessional.

A motion by board President Duaine Espegard and passed by the board said Shirvani did not complete the evaluation requirements established by board policy, which requires him to sit down with presidents after his evaluation of them, and have both parties sign off on the evaluation, which is then put in their employee files.

"We apologize for personal and professional damage the process may have had on the reputation of our valued presidents," Espegard said during the board's meeting at Dakota College at Bottineau.

A heated discussion flared up during the meeting in response to an open records request earlier this week asking for Shirvani's evaluations after he emailed them to each president.

Many university presidents spoke out against the University System's decision to release the evaluations.

David Fuller, president of Minot State University and Dakota College at Bottineau, asked the state board to apologize for releasing his evaluation before it was completed, and to remove it from his record.

Fuller said he first learned about his evaluation from his wife, after she read it online.

He said Shirvani's evaluation was vindictive and has created both professional and personal damage.

"This process and this man that did this is an embarrassment to higher education," he told the board.

Fuller disagreed with how the evaluations were released, arguing they were not complete and shouldn't have been released.

"There has been such an amazing amount of damage on my campus, to my wife, to me based on his vindictiveness, and I will not tolerate it," he said.

Claire Ness, legal counsel for the University System, said Shirvani told her the evaluations were final and could be released.

"Under law, when a document is finished and we have a standing request for it, we have to send it out whether we like it or not, we have that legal obligation," she said.

Board member Terry Hjelmstad agreed with Fuller, questioning why the evaluations were released as open records before the full evaluation process was completed.

He also took qualms with what was said, calling the evaluations unethical, vindictive and slanderous.

"In my 46 years in education, I have never seen something that was so illegal or insubordinate," he told the board. "Anybody on our board that approves these are wrong. These are not objective, they are not even evaluations, all they are are observations."

In his evaluations, Shirvani targeted three campus presidents, calling for full reviews of University of North Dakota President Robert Kelley and North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani. Shirvani also recommended no raises for Kelley and Fuller.

The former chancellor also proposed a "full 360 review" of Kelley and Bresciani by outside groups next fall, noting that both have been president long enough to warrant such a review. Kelley started at UND in July 2008, Bresciani at NDSU in June 2010.

Kelley and Bresciani did not attend Thursday's board meeting.

The state board authorized newly appointed acting Chancellor Larry Skogen, president of Bismarck State College, to begin the evaluation process "as he sees fit," after a self-evaluation by the presidents.

Skogen said he would "relish the opportunity to try to fix this."

"It's obvious what a mess this is," he told the board. "Telling me to start over is fine with me. What I don't know is how you fix this. For some injuries there is no remedy. This injury may be such to individuals there is no way for us to fix it."

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.