Forum editorial: The ‘right person’ for higher ed
As members of the North Dakota Board of Higher Education wrestle with a redefined role for a new university system chancellor, they might want to heed the wisdom of one of their own. Fargo's Don Morton got to the heart of the matter this week whe...
As members of the North Dakota Board of Higher Education wrestle with a redefined role for a new university system chancellor, they might want to heed the wisdom of one of their own. Fargo’s Don Morton got to the heart of the matter this week when he told the board, “The right person can make things happen no matter what sort of reporting structure we have.”
The right person.
The board’s troubles during the past two years demonstrate that problems developed not exclusively because of the structure of the system, but rather because of the conduct of people working in the system. It was a personnel nightmare, not structural collapse.
If the board feels it is necessary to tweak lines of command and communication among board members, the chancellor and campus presidents, so be it. Enhancing communication can’t hurt. But as Morton’s comments suggest, communication is only as good (or bad) as the communicators. The communicator-in-chief should be the chancellor. If he or she is incompetent – or somehow stymied – in that role, failure is assured.
The champion of failure was fired Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, whose brief tenure was distinguished by his attempts to run roughshod over anyone who disagreed with his agenda. That included board members, school presidents and legislators. In effect his style of communication was, “you must listen to me, but I need not listen to you.” The Shirvani experience should be a learning opportunity for board members who hired him and defended him (and are still on the board) until it was obvious there was no defense.
A new chancellor must have a clear job description, embrace the system’s goals, and accept the governance structure as defined by the board. That’s a tall order. And it’s why Morton’s advice about “the right person” is on the mark.
Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.