Published Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 | 11:41 a.m.
Updated Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 | 6:15 p.m.
Nevada higher education leaders today appointed UNLV stadium point man, former Hotel College dean and Las Vegas business leader Don Snyder to become the university’s acting president.
Wealth of experience
Snyder comes to UNLV with a wealth of experience in the gaming and business communities, as well as capital fundraising.
He spent 22 years with First Interstate Bank (now Wells Fargo), served in several executive leadership positions at Fremont Street Experience and Boyd Gaming Corp. and raised money to build the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
Snyder joined UNLV as dean of the Hotel College in 2010.
Last year, Snyder stepped down as dean to lead the university’s efforts to build an on-campus football stadium. Snyder currently serves as chairman of the UNLV Campus Improvement Authority Board, which is tasked with recommending a stadium proposal to the Nevada Legislature by September.
Snyder was the first in his family to go to college. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Wyoming and a certificate from the graduate school of credit and financial management at Stanford University.
Snyder also serves on several local nonprofit boards, including the Smith Center, Nathan Adelson Hospice and the Governor’s Workforce Development Board. He also served on several Las Vegas gaming and tourism boards, including the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the Nevada Resort Association.
Snyder became the 10th UNLV president with overwhelming support from Nevada regents and the Las Vegas business community, who lobbied hard for the former Boyd Gaming Corp. and Fremont Street Experience executive. Snyder is the second business leader and non-academic to lead UNLV after former state Gov. Kenny Guinn’s tenure in the mid-1990s.
Snyder represents a departure from the typical university president, an academic with a lengthy curriculum vitae and list of research publications. One regent called Snyder a “nontraditional candidate” for the job, because of his extensive banking and gaming background.
While some faculty members questioned appointing a non-academic to run the largest university in Nevada, regents said they wanted a temporary leader who could strengthen the ties between the UNLV and Las Vegas business communities. As Southern Nevada looks to diversify its economy, political leaders are looking at UNLV to educate the workforce for burgeoning careers in the technology sector, unmanned aerial drones and renewable energy.
Eleven regents voted in his favor of Snyder’s appointment. Two regents — Ron Knecht and Allison Stephens — abstained.
Snyder said he was “absolutely stunned” by the appointment, and was gratified and humbled by the supportive comments.
“I will never let you down," Snyder told regents. “I look forward to the work.”
Brian McAnallen, vice president of governmental affairs with Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, said the business community “stands with our full weight” behind Snyder, who helped develop the Fremont Street Experience and the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
“(Snyder) knows how to build consensus,” McAnallen said. “He will take care of UNLV as we wait for a permanent president.”
Business leaders said they supported Snyder because he was familiar with departing President Neal Smatresk’s vision for UNLV. Smatresk will officially resign in early February to take the helm of the University of North Texas, near Dallas.
During his four-year tenure at UNLV, Smatresk pushed to transform the relatively young university into a top-tier, internationally renowned research institution with a dedicated medical school and on-campus football stadium.
Snyder, who helped raise a record $537 million during UNLV’s inaugural capital campaign, was tapped by Smatresk to shepherd the campus football stadium to completion.
Regents chose Snyder over several internal candidates, including former UNLV President Carol Harter and John Valery White, UNLV’s executive vice president and provost.
While Snyder was supported by the business community, Harter was supported by some members in the faculty and community. Harter was asked to resign by former Chancellor Jim Rogers in 2006 after 11 years as the university’s leader.
In an ironic twist of fate, it was Rogers' wife, Beverly, who was the sole public supporter of Harter during the regents meeting on Friday. Jim and Beverly Rogers recently donated $10 million to the Black Mountain Institute, which Harter oversees.
“I’m here to stand up for Carol Harter,” Beverly Rogers told regents. “I am sick to my stomach about (Klaich’s) recommendation” to name Snyder as acting president.
White said he did not want to become the acting UNLV president, since serving in that capacity would preclude his eligibility to apply in the presidential search. The former UNLV Law School dean said he is interested in becoming the permanent UNLV president.
Regents Cedric Crear and Stephens said they would have liked to name White as interim president, groomed to eventually become the first black president of UNLV. Klaich also said White would be a strong candidate for the permanent president.
Crear, however, questioned Snyder’s ability to juggle his duties as chairman of the UNLV stadium authority board and acting president of the university. By the end of September, the UNLV Campus Improvement Authority Board must submit a recommendation to the Nevada Legislature about the feasibility of an on-campus stadium.
Last year, Snyder stepped down as Hotel College dean to devote his full attention on the stadium project.
“I don’t know how (Snyder) can do two jobs,” Crear said.
Klaich defended his recommendation, arguing Snyder is a “superb multitasker” who can handle both responsibilities. He said the stadium board recently hired a project manager who will do most of the heavy lifting on the feasibility study.
As acting president, Snyder will be paid a base salary of $300,000, effective Feb. 1 to Dec. 31. He also will receive a $5,000 stipend to host events. Unlike his predecessor, Snyder will not receive a car or housing allowance, but is eligible for merit increases.
Snyder is expected to serve as acting president until the Nevada System of Higher Education conducts a national search and names a permanent replacement. Regents hope to have the 11th president of UNLV in place by Sept. 1.
Meantime, Snyder said he plans to focus on Smatresk’s legacy projects: building a Tier-1 university, a Southern Nevada medical school and Las Vegas’ first major athletic stadium.
“Smatresk laid a tremendous foundation for UNLV’s future,” Snyder said. “It’ll be a great honor to build on top of that foundation.”