Rachelle Karstens

Karstens

SIOUX CITY | Hamid "Ham" Shirvani has ended another short-lived college leadership position, as Briar Cliff University officials on Wednesday announced his resignation as university president, after 14 months on the job.

A release from the Sioux City college said Shirvani will continue as president through the end of the fall semester. He could not be reached for an interview.

“This has not been an easy decision for me to make, and is a result of a combination of family, personal and professional considerations,” Shirvani said in the release.

“I have enjoyed working with the campus community, particularly with the faculty who represent the core of the university.”

Shirvani, 67, will continue to work on special projects under the direction of the board of trustees but Rachelle Karstens, the university’s chief of staff and legal counsel, will oversee all day-to-day operations moving forward.

The trustees will begin a search for a new president in the coming months and will share more details later.

Charese Yanney, a Sioux City businesswoman who has been on the board for more than a dozen years, lamented the loss of Shirvani.

"I am sorry to see him go," she said. "He had a real vision for Briar Cliff and tried to make it a better place, to raise the standards of education and learning."

In November 2016, Shirvani revealed a five-year plan for BCU. The pieces ranged from a possible new athletic complex to changes in standards for students and staff. One option included bringing back a degree in special education instruction for fall semester 2017.

Shirvani, a controversial figure who has drawn both praise and criticism for his management style during two decades as a college administrator, was introduced in April 2016 as the 10th president of Briar Cliff University.

He succeeded Bev Wharton, who led the private Sioux City college for 15 years, the longest tenure in its 85-year history. He started as BCU president on June 1, 2016.

Reaffirming its support for Shirvani, the college's board of trustees in May dismissed a local media report that Shirvani was investigated for sexual harassment, saying it "inaccurately and inappropriately cast a cloud" over his leadership.

When he was hired, Sister Cathy Katoski, chairwoman of the Briar Cliff board of trustees, said Shirvani was a unanimous choice.

"This is a monumental day for us. Dr. Shirvani's prior experience, his proven leadership, his strong character and his deep Catholic beliefs make an excellent fit to lead this university," Katoski said in April 2016, at a ceremony at the Stark Center. Shirvani was greeted by applause from the crowd of more than 150.

Briar Cliff officials also pointed out that Shirvani was responsible for more than $700 million in development and fundraising activities, as well as more than $1 million in research grant funding, at the prior institutions he served.

In the Wednesday release, Katoski said, "The board of trustees thanks Dr. Shirvani for his service to the university and wishes him – and his family – the best in the future. Our focus now is on filling the role of president and ensuring that we continue to deliver a rigorous, world-class education to our valued students. This is a top priority, because it is important we remain a place of opportunity that is committed to providing students a quality, liberal arts education rooted in our Franciscan values.”

Shirvani left a position as senior fellow at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in Washington D.C., to come to Briar Cliff.

In April 2016, Shirvani said he wanted to grow Briar Cliff’s academic programs, facilities and the student population. At the time, the college had an enrollment of 1,149 and 66 faculty members, not counting adjunct instructors.

The most recent BCU student count for fall semester 2016 was 1,316 students.

As he arrived, Shirvani defended his record and answered questions about controversies during his leadership roles at public universities in North Dakota and California.

“Every institution that I've been at I've left in a better way than when I started," he said.

Shirvani lasted just 11 months as chancellor of the North Dakota University System, which oversees the state's 11 public campuses. In June 2013, the North Dakota Board of Higher Education unanimously voted to approve a buyout of the final two years of his contract at a cost of nearly $925,000.

The buyout came after months of growing concern among state lawmakers, university system officials, faculty and student groups over Shirvani’s management style and treatment of staff.

Prior to going to North Dakota, Shirvani served as president of California State University Stanislaus, where he also was a controversial figure during his seven-year tenure, from 2005 to 2012.

Four years into his term there, 91 percent of the 264 professors on campus expressed "no confidence" in his leadership.

"I made decisions which were the right decisions for the students and the faculty were displeased with some of the decisions. As a result they expressed themselves by a vote of no confidence,” Shirvani said.

Briar Cliff University is located in the northwest part of Sioux City. It was founded in 1930 as a Catholic college for women.

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