Las Vegas Sun

September 18, 2019

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Disclosure of professors’ outside income opposed

University system officials and professors voiced opposition Monday to a bill that would make public all disclosure forms filed by faculty members earning outside income.

Senate Bill 279 is the result of a 2007 Sun investigation that found flaws in the way UNLV kept track of the outside income of its professors, the measure’s sponsor, state Sen. Terry Care, said.

The Sun found that UNLV officials had no idea how many professors were earning extra cash, and the university had no system in place to monitor potential conflicts of interest. UNLV officials refused to give the Sun copies of the disclosure forms, saying university system rules classified them as confidential personnel records.

But Care, a Las Vegas Democrat, disagreed Monday.

“It’s best to err in full disclosure,” Care said, adding that his bill doesn’t require professors to disclose the amount of their outside compensation.

Jane Nichols, vice chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education and James Richardson of the Nevada Faculty Alliance told members of the Senate Government Affairs Committee they were concerned companies won’t hire professors for independent work if that information is disclosed to competitors.

Nichols and Richardson said the university system has a “rigorous plan” in place now to prevent conflicts without making public the disclosure forms.

Faculty members must submit the forms to their department head or college dean, who will decide whether a conflict exists. Final approval for outside work rests with the president of each institution.

When the Sun sought the disclosure records in 2007, a majority of the regents said they favored a policy of openness. But at a public meeting, the regents approved a written policy that ensured the records would remain in the confidential personnel files.

Every year under the policy, Nichols said, each college or university must submit a report indicating how many professors have outside employment contracts, but the names of the faculty members and the details of their contracts can’t be made public.

Richardson asked Government Affairs Committee members Monday to “give us a year or two or three” to see how the process works.

But Barry Smith, director of the Nevada Press Association, said the process sheds little public light on any conflicts. He said the Sun investigation found that there was underreporting of the outside jobs at UNLV.

“There is no provision for the public to find out” if a conflict exists, Smith told lawmakers.

Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, the committee chairman, told the sides to get together to see whether an agreement can be worked out. The committee is to vote on the bill Wednesday.

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