Las Vegas Sun

September 15, 2019

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Regent Sisolak clashes with UNR chief

CARSON CITY -- Steve Sisolak of Las Vegas is the new kid on the block for the board of regents of the University and Community College System of Nevada, but already he's become the squeaky wheel.

He's asking questions and challenging the policies of some of the campus presidents.

At the other end is Joseph Crowley, the longtime president of the University of Nevada, Reno, who has gained respect from not only the regents but from the Legislature. He's been in the job for more than 20 years, longer than any other person.

And the two are not hitting it off. At the regents meeting Friday in Reno, Sisolak squared off against Crowley on three issues and came out loser each time.

After the meeting Sisolak said, "It seems everything the presidents propose, the board approves whether it's fiscally sound or not. We're just saying yes to everything."

He said Crowley would "get irritated when I ask questions."

"But that's what I was elected to do. And I'm not going to stop," Sisolak said.

On Friday they butted heads on paying $310,000 to Dr. Robert Miller, the new dean of the medical school; on issuing $14.5 million in bonds for new student housing at UNR; and on the sale of property by UNR at Stead north of Reno.

The board approved all three of Crowley's recommendations, despite opposition from Sisolak.

Regent Thalia Dondero said UNLV pays its football coach John Robinson $350,000 and she sees nothing wrong with the $310,000 salary going to Miller, who becomes dean of the medical school in November.

"I've looked at his (Miller's) qualifications and it's a fair salary," Dondero of Las Vegas said.

Sisolak, who cast the only dissenting vote, said the salary was "off the charts" and suggested the extra money could be used to meet other needs in the school. Sisolak also said after the meeting that Robinson earns $130,000 in state money and the rest comes from outside sources.

Miller succeeds Dr. Robert Daugherty, who earn $229,462 a year and who will be given dean emeritus status and continue to draw his salary while doing some teaching.

Regent Mark Alden of Las Vegas sought assurances from Crowley that "Miller will be in charge of the medical school. I'm concerned you have a former dean there.

"I don't want the new dean mired down in old stuff," Alden said.

Crowley said Miller, who will be stationed in Las Vegas, will be in charge. Miller's salary will be among the highest of government officials in the state, but Crowley said earlier that the chair of surgery at the medical school earns $310,000 and one and possibly more of the surgeons on staff also have higher pay.

The salary schedule, approved by the regents previously, calls for the dean's pay to range from $164,440 to $274,067.

Crowley said the schedule was five years old and not useful anymore. Miller is earning $265,000 now. Crowley said Miller wanted a 10 percent raise. In addition, the cost of living in Las Vegas is 8 percent to 10 percent higher than in New Orleans, where Miller works at Tulane.

Crowley said the market dictated the higher salary.

Sisolak challenged Crowley about the cost of living, suggesting it was about the same in Las Vegas or even lower.

The board also authorized $14.5 million in revenue bonds to build a new residence hall and parking garage in Reno for an expected influx of students. And it allowed Crowley to sell land at Stead, which is presently being used in part for family student housing.

Sisolak questioned the financial feasibility of the bonds for the residence hall, suggesting construction would not be ready in time for the start of school in September 2000 and there would not be any revenue from the new residents to pay off the bonds. The project will be partly financed by a 4 percent increase in student housing fees.

Sisolak complained the sale of Stead land would put students with families out of their homes. Crowley said everything is being done to help the students, who would be able to stay for a year.

Regent Howard Rosenberg of Reno suggested the $3.7 million the Reno school will receive from the sale of the 45 acres be set aside for family student housing. Sisolak and Regent Doug Seastrand of Las Vegas supported that motion, but it was defeated.