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State Board of Higher Ed schedules special meeting on allegations of illegal meeting

BISMARCK - The State Board of Higher Education has scheduled a special meeting Thursday to discuss allegations that the board has met illegally.

Sydney Hull, the student member of the board that oversees the North Dakota University System, on Thursday presented board members with documents suggesting the board has had "consistent problems" that may violate open meetings laws.

In a news release from a spokeswoman for the University System this afternoon, the board announced it will hold a meeting to review the allegations at 2 p.m. Thursday at Bismarck State College.

General counsel for the University System is investigating the allegations and will provide a report, according to the release from Linda Donlin.

The allegations include that the board's executive committee - a subcommittee of four of the board's eight voting members - met in an Oct. 29 conference call despite no announced notice, agenda or minutes, all requirements under the state's open meetings law.

The documents Hull provided the board also include an email in which a former University System attorney alleges the board has been meeting in dinners before its regular meetings to discuss board business. Notice has been given for the dinner meetings but no agenda or minutes, the attorney claims in the email.

The Forum requested on Friday an advisory opinion from the attorney general's office determining whether the dinner meetings have violated open meetings law. A review by the attorney general's office generally takes 120 to 180 days.

Board President Duaine Espegard said Thursday that the board would thoroughly vet the claims that it has met illegally, though he said at the time that the topic was unlikely to be addressed until the board's May meeting.

The allegations of open meetings violations come after the state Senate approved legislation that would provide funding to the board to buy out the remainder of Chancellor Hamid Shirvani's contract. The proposal still requires approval by the House.

Shirvani didn't comment on Hull's allegations during or after Thursday's meeting.

Shirvani has come under fire from legislators such as Sen. Tony Grindberg, the Fargo Republican who says the chancellor appointed a year ago has fostered an environment of fear and retaliation in the University System. Grindberg proposed giving the board the funds for the buyout.

The North Dakota Student Association has also approved a resolution expressing no confidence in Shirvani.