NSHE has had three different chancellors in five years. The most recent chancellor left with a $610,000 buyout after just 19 months in the role. (Nevada Current file photo)
This year’s elections brought five new regents to Nevada’s higher education ecosystem. When the newly elected are seated, they will have no shortage of issues to address, including finding a permanent chancellor and restoring pandemic budget cuts.
The 13-member nonpartisan board oversees the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE), which consists of four community colleges, two universities, one research institute, and one state college. They oversee an annual budget of more than $2 billion.
Dale A. R. Erquiaga, the current acting chancellor, has clarified that he will be temporarily in charge until the Board of Regents appoints a new chancellor. There is no clear timeline for when that will happen.
First, NSHE must decide how that role will look.
“What that really means is defining the roles and responsibilities of the regents with respect to the chancellor and the presidents of the institutions,” said Kent Ervin, the state president of Nevada Faculty Alliance. “Until they figure out that relationship, it’s going to be hard to find a chancellor to fill that role the way they want.”
Put another way: NSHE needs to decide who is in charge. Some want the chancellor to have a stronger, more supervisory role – meaning the Board of Regents hires the chancellor and the chancellor has authority over the presidents of the colleges, universities, and institutions. Others believe the chancellor should be more administrative, with the presidents, a group that includes former Gov. Brian Sandoval, calling the shots.
Currently, the chancellor role is a hybrid model, and that tension has led to turmoil. NSHE has had three different chancellors in five years. The most recent chancellor, Melody Rose, left with a $610,000 buyout after just 19 months in the role.
“The chancellor has all of the responsibilities, but none of the power,” Ervin said.
On Thursday, NSHE reached a $110,000 settlement to oust a chief of staff who’d only been on the job for three months.
Another concern for the regents in the upcoming year will be trying to reinstate the budget cuts made during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. Steve Sisolak cut 12% from the NSHE operating budget in 2020, money that was never reinstated even as the Nevada economy recovered. NSHE is requesting it as an enhancement in the next legislative session.
Also looming is an ongoing legislative effort to remove the Board of Regents from the state constitution. While that wouldn’t have an immediate impact, it is cause for concern, Ervin said.
“That means that the Legislature itself, rather than regents, would be in control of the university and college system in Nevada,” he said. “What we at the Nevada Faculty Alliance are concerned about are the threats to academic freedom where the Legislature or governor has tried to take hold of the university system.”
Voters in 2020 narrowly defeated a statewide ballot measure to remove the Board of Regents from the Constitution.
“With any new regent there’s a steep learning curve,” said Ervin. “We have five new regents, and only one of them has any extensive experience in higher education. They each have different qualifications as far as serving on boards, or nonprofits, or in business.”
Three of the five new seats that were on the ballot this year are in Southern Nevada districts, and two are in Northern Nevada.
In Southern Nevada, John Moran, the only incumbent seeking reelection on the Board of Regents this year, lost to Stephanie Goodman, the former daughter-in-law of Las Vegas mayors Oscar and Carolyn Goodman. Heather Brown was also elected from Southern Nevada, defeating Jeanine Dadkuk. And former Clark County Commissioner Susan Brager beat David Crete.
In Northern Nevada, Shelley Crawford, the first Latina on the board, beat John Patrick Rice, and in a battle of neighbors, Jeffrey Downs beat Steve Laden.
Ervin believes the new regents’ biggest challenge will be sifting through information and misinformation.
“A challenge will be sorting through all the information they get, what’s important and reliable from various sources,” he said. “It’s easy to get pieces of information…but if you look at a [specific] case it may not be representative of what’s going on on campuses.”
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