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Chancellor buyout to cost $925,000

BISMARCK -- Monday's vote by the State Board of Higher Education to buy out Chancellor Hamid Shirvani's contract will cost the state more than $925,000.

An estimate by the North Dakota University System says Shirvani will receive $925,377 for his remaining two years, plus an undetermined total amount to retain an outside attorney to handle the contract negotiations. Shirvani was given a three-year contract when he was hired last July. He will go on administrative leave after July 15.

State board President Duaine Espegard, who repeatedly voiced his support of Shirvani as criticism of the chancellor grew, said the state Legislature was pretty good to the University System during the session that ended last month and the money is in the budget.

"But the unfortunate part is that's not where it should be spent," Espegard said Tuesday.

Lawmakers gave the system just more than $1 billion in special and general funds.

The total amount of the buyout is based on the separation agreement Shirvani signed after Monday's state board vote in Medora.

The total buyout includes $782,000 for his salary, $88,547 toward his retirement, $14,600 in Medicare coverage, $14,700 toward his Social Security and $23,600 for health insurance benefits.

University System spokeswoman Linda Donlin said the money will come out of the system's general fund and he will receive his buyout based on the normal bimonthly University System payments.

Shirvani will receive a contribution to a retirement fund of 11.5 percent of his salary until Jan. 1, 2014, and then 12.5 percent of his salary through June 30, 2015.

He and eligible family members also are entitled to health insurance, and he will receive a 4 percent salary increase effective July 1 and a 3 percent increase July 1, 2014.

He will still be able to receive his salary and benefits if he takes another job.

Shirvani said Tuesday he did not once think about quitting or moving out of state during the legislative session as students and lawmakers showed their frustration toward him by voting no confidence in his leadership and proposing options to have him removed.

"Then I was very determined to stay on my course and do the job I was hired to do," said Shirvani, who came to North Dakota from California.

Now, "I certainly will move out of state," he said.

Shirvani has been criticized for having a stubborn, ill-tempered leadership style, causing some within the University System office to be fearful of him and losing their jobs. Shirvani and the State Board of Higher Education also were found in violation of the state's open meeting laws.

Shirvani said he felt racism that was directed toward him the past six months was a contributing factor to the turmoil, but couldn't say how much.

Shirvani, a native of Iran, has received many emails and notes full of profanity and racial slurs, which had led him to feel uncomfortable to even talk about them, he said.

"They would tell me that 'I don't understand North Dakota culture, I don't fit in, I'm not the right person,' " he said.

Back to work

The day after signing his separation agreement with the state board, Shirvani was back to work.

He said Tuesday he is now "wrapping up things," as his last day is July 15.

"I have plenty of things I have to finish in the office," he said. "There is a lot of work on a daily basis, including a lot of preparation for the next board meeting," which is set for June 20 in Bottineau.

Shirvani said he does not have any large policies or changes he wants to make to the University System before he is put on administrative leave.

"I will leave it to the new acting or permanent chancellor," he said. "I'm just wrapping up things, leaving the place organized for the new person."

For now, he said he's winding down and looking forward to resting for a month or two.

"We will recuperate, really have some peace," he said about him and his wife.