Shirvani has been in charge of the university system since last July.

North Dakota's Senate has rejected a proposal to buy out the contract of University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, who has been on the job for less than a year.

Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, who has questioned Shirvani's leadership, offered a floor amendment Tuesday to the higher education funding bill to buy out the final two years of Shirvani's three-year contract, at a cost of about $854,000.

Grindberg's amendment would have only provided funds for the buyout and would not have forced the Board of Higher Education to fire Shirvani.

"It provides an option to change course," Grindberg said.

Grindberg and other lawmakers have been critical of Shirvani's proposed overhaul of the higher education system to tighten admission standards, a proposal to add 30 employees to the university system's payroll — 23 more than recommended by the governor — and a proposal to create an office for himself at the University of North Dakota campus in Grand Forks.

Shirvani has been in charge of the university system since last July. His contract runs through June 2015 and is paid $349,000 annually.

North Dakota's university system includes six four-year universities, five two-year colleges and a two-year budget of more than $1 billion. The system has more than 48,000 enrolled students.

The system's college presidents report to Shirvani, who answers to the Board of Higher Education.

Shirvani told The Associated Press he was "pleased and humbled" that the Senate rejected the buyout proposal. He said he is following the direction set by the Board of Higher Education.

Shirvani said he was given a mandate by the board to improve low graduation rates, student retention rates and other problems among the campuses.

"These campuses can thrive," he said. "But you have to give it a chance and move from politics to substance. Substance is important."

The North Dakota Student Association expressed a vote of "no confidence" in Shirvani on Saturday. The Board of Higher Education issued a statement a day later expressing disappointment in the students' action.

"The board remains in full support of the policies adopted by the board and implemented by Chancellor Shirvani," the statement said.