JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Sometimes You Have To Be Careful What You Ask For

Tomorrow is the deadline for people to apply to become the next chancellor of the North Dakota Higher Education system. Given the chaos that exists in the state’s higher education system right now, I’ll almost be surprised if anyone applies.

I said almost. Because anyone who does apply will surely be well-educated and reasonably intelligent, and so even though they know they will be working for a dysfunctional board and they know the last two chancellors didn’t last long and left under clouds of controversy. They also know that the last two left with nice little buyout packages that enabled them to take a little time off and relax before jumping into a new career.

Former chancellor Dr. Robert Potts came out on the losing end of a spat with the president of North Dakota State University and resigned, taking with him a buyout of about a quarter of a million dollars. He moved on to the Arkansas university system and is now retired, I think.  His successor, Dr.  Hamid Shirvani, did much better financially, departing in 2013 with a buyout of his entire contract, about $925,000 cash in his pocket. He apparently hasn’t been so lucky in re-establishing himself in the academic world.

My friend, Dr. Larry Skogen, who was serving as president of Bismarck State College, stepped up in mid-2013 and has been running the North Dakota University System about as well as anybody has ever done while the SBHE searches for a permanent chancellor. But he wants to go back to being a college president and will do so July 1 unless the list of applicants for the job is so thin that the board convinces him to take the chancellor’s job. Could happen.

One whose name won’t be on the applicants list is Dr. Shirvani, although from what I hear, his name is on other application forms around the country. Which brings me to the point of this blog.

I got a call from a North Dakota legislator this week who told me Dr. Shirvani is having a hard time finding a job. He left with the $925,000 buyout in June 2013, so maybe the bank account is getting a little light.

According to his Wikipedia page, which I have to say is one of the more amazing self-written Wikipedia pages I’ve ever seen, Dr. Shirvani is “currently a Senior Fellow with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

I wasn’t quite sure what that was all about, so I went to their website, but they don’t seem to know him. I typed his name into their search engine, but he doesn’t show up on their website. I suppose that’s just an oversight and only means that either AASCU or Dr. Shirvani has not updated their website lately.

Anyway, the reason for the call was to tell me that Dr. Shirvani felt that a blog post I wrote a couple of years ago as Dr. Shirvani was leaving his job here was preventing him from getting a new job. And he would like it if I would remove that particular post from my blog. Really.

Well, I said, I couldn’t recall what I had said on that blog, but I would take a look at it and get back to him, adding that I wasn’t sure what kind of job Dr. Shirvani was looking for, but I was pretty doubtful that people who hire college presidents and chancellors and positions of that ilk really take time to read my blog.

So, this morning, I finally got around to looking at that blog post, from June 3, 2013 (I was busy yesterday putting together a new gas grill that said on the box “some assembly required”).

What I found was that I had written about the dysfunctionality of the State Board of Higher Education, with a reference to the fact that Dr. Shirvani was their latest victim, and quoting from an earlier blog I had written when Dr. Shirvani first arrived here. That blog post referred to a story out of a California newspaper about the controversy that erupted when Dr. Shirvani hired Sarah Palin to speak at a fundraiser at the university he was running in California, which got him a no-confidence vote from his faculty.

But other than that reference (and what I thought was a nice picture of Dr. Shirvani with his arm around Sarah Palin), that post was about the incompetence of the SBHE, which had led to the North Dakota Legislature’s goofy proposal to replace the board with a full-time, three-member commission, an idea that was soundly trounced by North Dakota voters last November.

I can only surmise that it is the Shirvani-Palin photo that is giving the former chancellor heartburn as he seeks new employment. Because I certainly didn’t say anything disparaging about Dr. Shirvani in that blog post. You can read it yourself if you want.

So, I politely informed the legislator who had called me with the request that I didn’t see a good reason to take that down from my website. Not mentioning anything about the ethics of doing something like that, or even making a request to do something like that. It’s interesting that on the Internet, you can actually make a story disappear. You can’t “unprint” a newspaper, but you can “unprint” a web post. Well, thanks, but no thanks.

I did take the time, while I was online this morning looking at the blog, to take a good look at the amazing Wikipedia page of Dr. Shirvani’s. And after reading it, I cannot figure out why he can’t get hired. It is really, really impressive. According to it, he’s not just a Fellow at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities — he’s a Fellow in a lot of places. Here’s an excerpt:

“Sir Hamid Shirvani is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science, Recipient of Special Commendation by the American Institute of Architects (2003) for his contributions in the fields of architecture and urban design, Recipient of the Seikyo Culture Award of Japan (1999) and is listed in the “Who’s Who in the World.” Sir Hamid Shirvani has lectured at 27 international and 48 U.S. universities, several dozen public and private agencies, and professional societies.” 

Holy Cow! He’s a “Sir.” I never knew that!

I wondered, how do you become a “Sir?” Well, the short answer is, you apply for it, on the website of the Royal Society of Arts. It’s a short process, with just three pages, titled “Your Details,” “Your Application” and “Your Payment.”

You pay an entry fee of 75 pounds sterling (it is, after all, a British society — we don’t have organizations that make you “Sirs” in this country) and another 165 pounds sterling a year, and you have to pass some sort of screening committee, which means you have to have done something to earn the right to be called “Sir.” You and the other 27,000 “Sirs” and “Dames” worldwide.

Quite an exclusive club, whose members include some of these people you might recognize: Judi Dench, John Diefenbaker, Anthony Armstrong Jones, First Earl of Snowdon (remember him? He was married to Princess Margaret), Alfred Dunhill (the Dunhill Tobacco guy), Ian McEwan, George Washington Carver (apparently the Society has been around for a while), Stephen Hawking, Charles Dickens and Karl Marx. And then about 26,000 names you might not recognize, like Helena Kennedy, Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws;  Anthony FitzClarence, Seventh Earl of Munster; Trixie Gardner, Baroness Gardner of Parkes; and John Stevens, Baron Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, among others.

I couldn’t find Hamid Shirvani on the list I looked at on Wikipedia, but, it was only a partial list — I am sure 27,000 names is too many to list on one website. Think about it: 27,000 “Sirs” and “Dames.” Pretty exclusive company, eh?

As for that “Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science,” title, well, I was curious about that too, so I looked them up. Their website says  “The World Academy of Art and Science is composed of 730 individual Fellows from diverse cultures, nationalities, and intellectual disciplines, chosen for eminence in art, the natural and social sciences, and the humanities.”

Cool. A much more exclusive club. Except that they do list all 730 members on their website, and there’s no one named Shirvani on it. Probably needs to be updated too. Oh, I checked, and Sarah Palin wasn’t there, either.  Good news, though. I did find Dr. Shirvani on the Who’s Who in the World list (go ahead, take a peek), just like he said. Along with 1,499,999 other really important people. Including Sarah Palin.

Well, anyway, with credentials like that, Dr. Shirvani shouldn’t have trouble finding work. I wish him well. And I’ll be checking the traffic on that June 3, 2013, blog post of mine. Hope my server holds up.

P.S. If you want to see the most impressive Facebook page ever, check out the page for Dr. Hamid Shirvani. Don’t leave out the title — there are quite a few Hamid Shirvani’s, but none of the rest are “Dr.’s.

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