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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Attorney says chancellor Shirvani, board did not break laws

  • The board originally planned to discuss the allegations in April, but decided instead to hold the meeting Thursday.
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  • The North Dakota Board of Higher Education and the university system chancellor did not break open meetings laws, according to the board lawyer who Thursday unveiled a 221-page report about complaints that were made public last week.
    Claire Holloway, who recently took over as the board's general counsel, told the board during a special meeting that her investigation found there were no serious violations by Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, who has come under fire for his management style.
    "I have found no substantive evidence of willful wrongdoing," Holloway told board members, most of whom listened by conference call from various sites.
    Holloway was asked to look into possible open meetings violations and other policy issues after some of the allegations were raised by Sydney Hull, the board's student member. Hull last week gave the board a memo that former board attorney Pat Seaworth sent to state Sen. Tony Grindberg spelling out complaints against Shirvani.
    The board originally planned to discuss the allegations in April, but decided instead to hold the meeting Thursday. Linda Donlin, a spokeswoman for Shirvani, said the chancellor was grateful the board asked Holloway to investigate the manner in a timely fashion and he was relieved her findings supported his "understanding of the situation."
    Grindberg, whose proposal to buy out Shirvani's contract passed the Senate a couple of weeks ago, called the expedited meeting "bizarre." He said Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem usually takes a couple of months when he investigates possible open meetings violations.
    "Whatever, it is what it is," Grindberg said. "My second point is that if you have effective leaders, you never get yourself in these kinds of situations, because you know better."
    Board members Kirsten Diederich and Don Morton, both of Fargo, said it was important to address the allegations quickly because the Legislature is deciding on the higher education budget.
    "I think it's important to bring this to light. It's important to be transparent," Morton said.
    Hull, a North Dakota State University student who was listening in from South Africa on spring break, and every other board member voted to approve the report. Diederich, the vice president of the board, said Hull deserves credits for bringing the complaints forward.
    "I think that Sydney followed his moral compass," Diederich said. "If you're hearing things from students and you're hearing it from faculty or legislators, you should be addressing whatever you hear."
    The North Dakota Student Association, which represents more than 48,000 public university students, last month approved a vote of "no confidence" in Shirvani.
    A group of six former North Dakota college and university presidents expressed similar sentiments in a letter this week to board members. Jim Ozburn, Ellen Chaffee, Garvin Stevens, Kermit Lidstrom, Al Watrel and Sharon Etemad wrote that Shirvani should be fired.
    Page 2 of 2 - Diederich said she sent an email to Chaffee thanking her for the report.
    "Past presidents have a lot of insight. They have a lot of experience," Diederich said. "It's been awhile since they've been sitting in the seats here, kind of in the trenches. Not that what they had to say isn't relevant now, but it's something we should look into ourselves."
    Holloway, who broke down the allegations against the board and Shirvani into nine categories, said most of the assertions were "factually incorrect." She doesn't believe Shirvani is setting new rules on his own accord.
    "To my knowledge, there is no policy that the chancellor has unilaterally changed or adopted," she said.
    Holloway did suggest that the board review its practices for publicizing its actions. She cited one instance in which detailed minutes of a meeting were not posted and said that should be fixed with a "corrective document."
    Board member Kari Reichert said during the meeting that the board, not Shirvani, is responsible for following open meetings laws and keeping people informed of board business.
    "I think this is presented as the chancellor making these mistakes and quite frankly it's us," she said.

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