The board lawyer came out with a report last week that refuted accusations that Shirvani violated board policy, such as improper delegation of authority, issuing gag orders and threatening presidents with their jobs.
A majority of North Dakota Board of Higher Education members said Thursday they stand behind University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, who has been criticized for his management style and is accused of planning to remove some college presidents.
Board members approved a resolution of support for Shirvani by a 5-3 vote in a special conference call meeting. Members who voted against the idea said they thought it oversimplified the issue.
"If I don't vote for this resolution, it doesn't mean I don't support the chancellor," said board member Kari Reichert, who joined Terry Hjelmstad and student member Sydney Hull in rejecting the measure. "What it means is that I don't think it's a simple issue."
Board president Duaine Espegard and Kirsten Diederich, Don Morton, Kathleen Neset and Grant Shaft voted in favor of the resolution.
"I'm pleased with and greatly appreciate the confidence shown in me by the board members who voted for this resolution of support," Shirvani, who took the system's helm July 1, said in a statement. "I'm looking forward to moving ahead with the important plans we have for higher education."
Shaft, of Grand Forks, sponsored the resolution. He said he felt the measure was needed because of recent complaints that he believes have been resolved. The board lawyer came out with a report last week that refuted accusations that Shirvani violated board policy, such as improper delegation of authority, issuing gag orders and threatening presidents with their jobs.
"I just feel it's necessary as a board to show support for the chancellor, university system staff and the policies of the board," Shaft said.
Hjelmstad said he didn't like the idea because it was an all-or-nothing resolution.
"It seems to me that by endorsing or approving these polices that we're 100 percent supportive of everything that's happened in the past and 100 percent supportive of anything that may happen in the future, and we don't know what those are," he said.
Hull, a North Dakota State University student, said: "If we're going to pass a resolution we got an hour and a half before the meeting, without people even reading it before the meeting, I think that's a little ridiculous."
Following the vote, state Sen. Tony Grindberg, during the public comment portion of the meeting, said Shirvani told House Majority Leader Al Carlson that he believed some of the presidents were not qualified. Grindberg has sponsored an amendment to the higher education funding bill that would put money aside to buy out Shirvani's contract
"The whole notion of removing presidents started last summer," Grindberg said during the public comment portion of the meeting. "I have been told that the chairman of your board and Mr. Shirvani were part of discussions, informally in this community. That's what started this toxic environment."
Espegard, of Grand Forks, responded that he hasn't heard anything from Shirvani about taking action against any of the presidents and added, "It isn't coming from the board. I know that for sure."
In addition to complaints by Grindberg and other lawmakers about Shirvani's performance, the North Dakota Student Association last month approved a vote of "no confidence" in the chancellor, and six former college presidents came out in favor of Shirvani's removal.
"This environment, the leadership, is not going to a good place," Grindberg said.