Sunday, March 2, 2014 | 2 a.m.
The university system’s Board of Regents is looking for a president to replace Neal Smatresk, who left in January. This is an important choice: UNLV is a vital part of the community. It prepares the workforce and brings in more than $1.4 billion to the economy. Here are the qualities regents should expect in the next president.
Smatresk’s vision for UNLV included proposing a new medical school, an on-campus stadium and more research. These are big — and necessary — projects.
• Las Vegas is the nation’s largest metropolis without a public medical school. Med schools boost local economies. One study suggests it would contribute $1.2 billion to the economy.
• UNLV plans a 55,000-seat “mega-events” center on campus that tourism officials project will contribute about $400 million a year.
• The university’s academic reputation would soar if it received the Carnegie Foundation’s designation as a top-tier research university. UNLV’s economic impact would double, if not triple, with more research dollars flowing into the region.
A president must be smart, but need not be a pure academic. The president must know how to lead, set out a vision and be a catalyst for action. Because of the needed fundraising, political and people skills, several universities have hired politicians, including Purdue (former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels) and the University of California system (former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano).
The new president needs to be willing to work hard, especially at fundraising. Smatresk oversaw the conclusion of a capital campaign that topped its ambitious $500 million goal by $37 million. He launched another $500 million capital campaign, in part for the medical school. The new president will have to take up the challenge.
The president must be able to deal with change, as UNLV is all about growth.
• 28: Enrollment in 1951, when the campus started as an extension program.
• 805: Enrollment in 1957, when it became a college of the University of Nevada.
• 4,686: Enrollment in 1968, when it became UNLV.
• 27,848: Enrollment last fall. It’s one of the nation’s 100 largest public universities.
College presidents last an average of seven years. At UNLV, it’s five years. We’d like to see someone rooted in Southern Nevada for a longer time and someone who, such as acting President Don Snyder, is involved in the community and committed to it. With Snyder in charge, there’s no need to rush the search.
Give credit to Smatresk on any number of fronts, but the vision to push UNLV through the recession — with a bold plan for a stadium, for example — took an admirable amount of chutzpah. The next president will need guts, especially to stand up to regents and state officials who balk at a big vision.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Like the city is represents, UNLV has experienced incredible growth over its short history. It needs a leader who can push it further, not necessarily in size but in academic standing, research and reputation.