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Search firm will help find next UNLV president

Updated Friday, March 28, 2014 | 1:50 p.m.

Nevada’s higher education leaders unanimously approved hiring a search firm to find UNLV’s next president.

A search committee is meeting for the first time today to discuss finding a permanent replacement for former UNLV President Neal Smatresk, who earlier this year took the helm of the University of North Texas. During the search process, former Hotel College Dean Don Snyder is serving as acting president.

The search committee, composed of six voting regents and 37 nonvoting advisory members, will begin seeking bids from search firms immediately. A request for quotes will be issued this afternoon.

Committee member Tom Skancke, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, said the committee must choose the right search firm and spare no expense to find the best president for UNLV.

"This is probably the single most important position that this state has to fill for the next 20 years," Skancke said. "The education system is critical for our economy and our future."

The committee is expected to hear presentations from search firm applicants and hire a consultant at its next meeting on May 2. The following month, the committee will begin working with the firm to develop search parameters and finalize a list of character attributes Las Vegas wants to see in its next university president.

Committee members said they wanted a president who would be an effective communicator, staff manager and campus leader who would work closely with the Las Vegas community to develop its workforce and diversify its economy. They said the new UNLV president must carry on Smatresk’s vision, including becoming a Carnegie Tier-1 research university with a medical school and on-campus football stadium.

Faculty representatives said they wanted an academic leader, someone with a doctoral degree and extensive research experience. Smatresk was a thoroughbred academic with a lengthy curriculum vitae and publications in biology.

Business and community leaders, however, said they were open to a non-academic leader as well. Requiring a terminal degree or research experience would preclude someone like Snyder from applying. Snyder, a former banker, gaming executive and successful fundraiser, cannot apply to become permanent president because he is serving as acting president.

Regent Cedric Crear said he wanted a leader who would make a difference for UNLV students.

“I hope we don’t lose perspective of students,” Crear said. “At the end of the day, that’s why we’re here. We need to find someone who will support students.”

Over the next two meetings, the presidential search committee will finalize its requirements for the next UNLV president. These qualities will be included in a “presidential leadership statement,” which will be submitted to the search firm.

The search firm is expected to launch a wide search for candidates, narrow the pool and submit around three semifinalists to the presidential search committee for review. The committee will nominate a finalist to the 13-member Board of Regents, which will make the final decision.

Regents Chairman Kevin Page said he hoped to have the next president installed by September. He said the search committee was taking its charge seriously and had not made any predeterminations yet about who will lead UNLV.

State law requires an open search process for university presidents. Some committee members said they were worried the public search would preclude well-regarded, sitting presidents from applying. Hiring an executive search firm initially will help keep interested applicants anonymous, but finalists eventually will become public knowledge.

Page said the committee would work hard to ensure a wide net was cast for the next UNLV president.

“I’m very confident this committee can come together and select the best leader for UNLV,” he said.

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