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North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, left, confers with State Board of High Board President Duaine Espagard during the board’s meeting May 9 on the University of North Dakota campus in Grand Forks. JOHN STENNES/FORUM NEWS SERVICE

Higher ed board buys out chancellor’s contract

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MEDORA, N.D. — The State Board of Higher Education voted Monday to remove Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, buying him out of his three-year contract.

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Shirvani will receive his salary, benefits and retirement over the next two years. Based on Shirvani’s annual salary of $349,000 a year, plus scheduled pay raises, and planned retirement contributions, he will be due more than $800,000 for the remainder of his contract, not including health benefits. The University System didn’t have the exact value of the buyout available Monday.

The board met here Sunday and Monday for its annual retreat, and on Monday took up a proposal Shirvani submitted more than a week ago to either allow him to continue his three-year contract with “complete autonomy and full support of the board” or buy out his contract.

“I wanted to move forward based on my terms, and the vote said they didn’t want to accept my terms,” Shirvani said, adding that he was “fine” after all eight voting members voted in favor of the buyout.

According to the separation agreement, Shirvani will go on administrative leave from July 15 through Jan. 2, 2014. During this time, he will have no responsibilities as chancellor, but will continue as the appointed commissioner to three higher education organizations and will serve as a consultant to the North Dakota University System and “reasonably cooperate when requested to provide information.”

Shirvani will receive a contribution to a 401(a) account of 11.5 percent of his salary until Jan. 1, 2014, and then 12.5 percent of his salary through June 30, 2015.

He is also entitled to health insurance for him and any eligible dependents, and 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 attributes much of the board’s decision to the turmoil that took place during the months the Legislature was in session, as students and lawmakers questioned his leadership abilities. The North Dakota Student Association voted no confidence in him, and lawmakers tried to force a buyout.

“We needed to stop this back and forth,” he said. “The last four months my wife and I have been through hell, and it’s not possible to stop this smear attack.”

The board’s decision was made after an hourlong executive session, which included consultation from Minneapolis-based attorney Sara McGrane over how the board should proceed to negotiate Shirvani’s proposal.

The board voted on three separate motions after its closed meeting.

The first was to move forward with Shirvani’s contract but require an extensive evaluation process; only Espegard and Kathleen Neset voted in favor.

The second motion would have allowed Shirvani to stay in his post, required a six-month evaluation, and allowed Shirvani to choose to stay or take a buyout. Board members defeated the motion by a split vote.

The third option was to buy out Shirvani’s contract, which was approved unanimously.

“I was given a job, and did what I was hired to do,” Shirvani said. “I’m sorry there was not enough support to allow me to continue.”

Shirvani signed the separation agreement Monday at the front desk of the Rough Riders Hotel, with board member Grant Shaft explaining the terms while speaking to McGrane on the phone.

Student board member Sydney Hull called the situation “very unpleasant.”

“I think it was necessary, the board had no way of moving forward after the first two (motions) failed,” Hull said. “It’s unfortunate we got to this position in the first place, but I personally didn’t see any other way this was going to end.”

He said some board members were concerned about how the board would move forward if Shirvani remained in his position.

“How do we move forward if we stick with the chancellor when the environment of the board and system had become so divided?” he said. “Now we can move forward and do what’s right with the University System. It is nice to have some resolution to this situation that has been at the forefront of higher ed for the last six months.”

When asked what he thought about Shirvani being hired and fired within a year, Espegard said, “It happens from time to time. You take a job and move it forward and you get to a point where you can’t move forward anymore.”

He said the board solidly supports the changes the chancellor advanced, and will continue to move forward with them.

During public discussion, board member Kari Reichert announced her support to continue with the new policies that have been implemented under Shirvani, but she didn’t think he should continue as chancellor.

“The plans are fairly straightforward, and we all agree with that, I just don’t feel we have the leadership,” she said.

And by moving forward with the same policies, such as Pathways for Student Success, Espegard said the board will figure out what caused so much consternation — Shirvani or people within the system.

“The question to be answered is this a resistance to governance or resistance to Ham?” he asked.

Article written by TJ Jerke of the Forum News Service

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