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New NDUS chancellor chosen

BISMARCK -- The state Board of Higher Education has hired a chancellor they believe can bring change to the system.

The board voted 5-3 Tuesday to choose Hamid "Ham" Shirvani, president of California State University-Stanislaus, as the next leader of the state's university system.

He expects to officially begin July 1, but said he plans to make trips to North Dakota before then to begin preparing for his new role.

Board Vice President Duaine Espegard of Grand Forks said he was impressed with Shirvani's commitment to students, his confidence and his personality.

President Grant Shaft of Grand Forks said they need a chancellor who can engage legislators, who has vision and "who is going to shake the system up a bit." Shaft was impressed with Shirvani's rapport with stakeholders throughout the interview process.

"He is the one person who you almost can never get out of a room because everybody flocks to that guy, and I see staff nodding their heads," Shaft said. "Whoever he sits with, they get so drawn into this fellow, and there's something about him."

Shirvani, 61, has degrees from Princeton and Harvard and has worked for five university systems, according to his job application. He was selected President of the Year twice by the California State Student Association.

Shirvani said he's grateful for the opportunity and looks forward to moving to North Dakota. As an architect, he said he considers himself as someone who puts together a vision and the structure necessary to achieve it.

"Change is not something that is comfortable to a lot of people," he said. "In order to improve a system, in order to move forward, there has to be some changes made."

There is a clear need for the NDUS to develop a strategic plan that responds to where the system wants to be 10 years from now, Shirvani said. The plan needs to be developed in collaboration with the governor, Legislature and business community and needs to link to state, economic and workforce development, he said.

He said there also needs to be more communication with the Legislature about the positive impact of the NDUS to get more support.

Shirvani also wants to review the system's policies and procedures. Many of the system's issues -- including granting unwarranted degrees and other issues at Dickinson State University -- would not have arisen if the right people, policies and procedures were in place, he said.

Some board members expressed concern about Shirvani's background, including a vote of no confidence from faculty in California.

Board member Robert Vallie of Fargo said he heard from people who believe Shirvani "is the guy we need" and others who said there would be "very serious consequences."

In his application, Shirvani explained the vote of no confidence was related to state mandated budget cuts and the conversion of the university's academic calendar to a semester system.

Shirvani said he comes from a rural area of California and believes North Dakotans will realize he's not different from them once they get to know him. He will move to Bismarck with his wife, Fatemeh, a physical therapist.

Shaft said he will negotiate a salary with Shirvani in the range of $340,000 to $350,000, which Shaft said is in line with what other chancellors in the region are paid.

The other finalists were Marshall Hill, executive director of Nebraska's Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education; Warren Wray, interim chancellor of Missouri University of Science and Technology and Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, provost of the Tri-College University of Fargo-Moorhead.

Board members expressed concern about Flakoll's lack of a doctorate, though a few thought he should have been considered in the top two.

Shirvani will replace Chancellor Bill Goetz, who retires in August.

Finneman is a multi-media reporter for Forum Communications Co.