• Chad Olson

Work-life balance: The never-ending role of Minot State's president


A fan of Metallica, Pink Floyd, and the Foo Fighters, Minot State University President Steven Shirley likes going to rock concerts to unwind.

“I’m a big live music person. I go to a lot of concerts,” he said.

Shirley has been the president of Minot State since July of 2014, while also being the president of Dakota College at Bottineau. Shirley has been a president within the North Dakota University system for 10 years — previously, he was president at Valley City State University. His undergraduate degree is in business and marketing management, his master’s degree is in business and administration, and his doctorate is in teaching and learning, all from the University of North Dakota.

“I am a proud graduate of the North Dakota University System. I always like to point that out because I think that we have a strong system of higher education in North Dakota,” Shirley said.

Although he is a big fan of rock music, Shirley says his number one hobby is spending time with his children. His daughter, Anna, is 6, and son, William, is 3.

“An interesting place to grow up is on a college campus. To a certain degree, that’s kind of a good thing,” he said about having his children frequently with him on campus.

As MSU president, Shirley has a busy work schedule averaging 60 hours per week. He often mixes family time with university obligations to make things work. He and his family can often be found at various events on campus such as football games and theatre productions.

“That’s the great part of this job. Whether it’s an athletic event or a theatre performance, if it’s a music recital or going to hear a guest lecture, or something that students might be involved with, that’s a lot of my nights and weekends,” Shirley said.

Shirley’s efforts to attend student events do not go unnoticed.

“This is the fourth college I have been to now, and I’ve seen President Shirley more than I’ve seen the other presidents,” MSU football player and sociology major James Phillips said.

“I see him at programs and what-not, so it’s kind of a nice thing he does,” marketing major Emily Sipos said. “He’s actually trying to build a connection compared to other professors and other people that you don’t see there.”

Shirley and his family also like to go and relax at their lake property on Lake Metigoshe, where he enjoys yard work and fishing.

“I really enjoy it up there. It’s a good place to get away for a little bit,” Shirley said.

As an administrator, Shirley has to juggle a wide variety of job duties. Some of these include addressing student issues, personnel matters, budget issues, inquiries from legislators, or attending fundraising events with alumni and donors. He also attends chamber of commerce meetings, and does a lot of in-state traveling representing the university.

“We’re in the middle of some important things right now. We had an $8.5 million budget reduction. It’s been a painful and difficult process,” he said.

During the next legislative session, Shirley said he will be diligently showing the important role that Minot State University plays.

“It’s about presenting a case, a value proposition. Imagine this part of the state without Minot State University at the level it is right now. The legislators and the folks that write the checks have incredibly difficult positions as well,” he said.

As the leader of a university, a lot of difficult decisions are made every day.

“Everyone makes mistakes every single day, and that’s part of the human experience. You own it first of all. I think that’s awfully important, to be an upstanding person, an upstanding leader, you take responsibility,” Shirley said. “This is an education institution. We learn from textbooks as students, but we also, as a collective group of 400 plus employees, are learning things on a daily basis,” Shirley said.

The road to student success at a university can often be full of challenges. Shirley has learned from his experiences in higher education, and shares lessons learned as advice to students.

“There’s going to be tough days along the way. Not every day is going to be easy, and not every test score is going to be what you want it to be. You dust yourself off and keep moving forward,” he said.

Shirley’s frequent presence at campus events and concern about the future of MSU reveals a man who cares about the university and, especially, the students here at MSU.

“I love my job, love being at Minot State University, love the people we have here and our students,” he said.

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