1 of 7
Dale Wetzel, Associated Press
John Richman, left, the president of the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, N.D., and Kirsten Diederich, right, a member of the North Dakota Board of Higher Education, who are members of a search committee that is recruiting a new chancellor of North Dakota's university system, listen to a video interview of a chancellor semifinalist on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012, during a search committee meeting in the Horizon Building at Bismarck State College in Bismarck, N.D. The Board of Higher Education hopes to hire someone in March to succeed the incumbent chancellor, William Goetz, who is retiring in August.

BISMARCK, N.D. — University presidents in Missouri and California, a Nebraska education administrator and a North Dakota state senator were chosen Thursday as finalists for the job of chancellor of North Dakota's university system.

The new chancellor will succeed William Goetz, who is retiring in August. Goetz himself is a former state lawmaker and administrator at Dickinson State University.

The committee interviewed five semifinalists Thursday via video in a Bismarck State College conference room — Marshall Hill, director of the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education; Hamid Shirvani, president of California State University-Stanislaus in Turlock, Calif.; Warren Wray, the interim chancellor of the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla; Tim Flakoll, a Republican state senator from Fargo who is provost of the Tri-College University of Fargo and Moorhead, Minn.; and Loren Anderson, president of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash.

A search committee agreed to bring everyone but Anderson to North Dakota at the end of the month for another round of interviews. The panel will suggest a group of finalists to the Board of Higher Education, which hopes to make its choice in March. All four names could be forwarded.

Shirvani, an architect who has worked in five university systems, appeared to generate the most enthusiasm among the 15 members of the search committee. Only member Dean Bresciani, North Dakota State University's president, voted against bringing him in again.

Shirvani said he would respect the individual roles of North Dakota's 11 public colleges, which include five two-year schools, and rely on the expertise of their presidents.

"The worst thing for the chancellor of the system is to start micromanaging the campuses," he said. "I have worked in the systems that they try to treat the campuses like bank branches, and that's not correct."

Shirvani was quizzed about a faculty vote of no confidence in his administration three years ago, which he described as a reaction from the school's unionized faculty against budget cuts and a request for additional work. He said the situation has improved since then.

"I do the right things even if it's costing me," Shirvani said.

Shaft described Shirvani — an Iranian immigrant and American citizen who grew up in London — as "one of the great surprises" of the five interviews.

Wray's job title as chancellor is equivalent to a North Dakota university president's position. He has been in the position since September, and has been an administration there since August 2006. Wray has a doctorate in civil engineering, previously held university administration jobs in Michigan and Ohio and taught engineering at Texas Tech University.

Before taking the position in Nebraska seven years ago, Hill worked for a higher-education coordinating board in Texas. He holds a doctorate in music education, and was previously a music professor and choral director at five colleges.

Flakoll heads a cooperative agency formed by North Dakota State University in Fargo and two Moorhead, Minn., schools — Concordia College and Minnesota State University Moorhead. In the past, Flakoll has been an animal science lecturer at North Dakota State University, marketing manager for a Fargo architecture and and construction company and general manager for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, a professional baseball team. He was first elected to the North Dakota Senate in 1998.

Flakoll said he has taken a lead role on many education initiatives in the Legislature, including an overhaul of how the state provides aid to local schools.

"I have the energy, the base of experiences in terms of (kindergarten through high school), higher education, business and industry, and working with a variety of stakeholders to help pull them together," Flakoll said. "I think that's what we need."

Search committee members said Flakoll's exposure to the broader academic world was limited.

John Richman, president of the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, said Flakoll was familiar with legislative debates over higher education financing.

"Do I think he could be a candidate for a chancellor of another system in another part of the country? No, I don't," Richman said. "Would he fit? Yes. Is he the best? I think that's yet to be determined.

"I think it's part of our role to present a diverse group of candidates to the board," Richman said. "If we give them all the same, we aren't giving them much to choose from."