Sunday, May 1, 2016 | 2 a.m.
At some point over the past dozen years, the regents who were elected to oversee Nevada’s public colleges and universities began falling down on the job, having forgotten who runs the place and acquiescing to strong-willed administrators.
It started when they began yielding, somewhat out of necessity, to take-charge philanthropist businessman-turned-chancellor Jim Rogers. The Nevada System of Higher Education was experiencing some dysfunction at the time and seemed adrift, and someone of Rogers’ caliber was needed in 2004 to right the ship. He worked the job for $1 a year, openly spoke his mind and figured he was done in 2009, when he quit. The chancellor’s job went to his No. 2 man, Dan Klaich. He was a regent from 1983 to 1997, then joined the staff as chief counsel and was promoted to executive vice chancellor by Rogers before taking over. Klaich is paid $309,000 a year plus benefits.
If Rogers commanded the higher ed office with brute force of will, Klaich has taken a slicker route, wooing regents and turning them compliant with his charm while, behind the scenes and perhaps with a snicker, rewriting friendly consultants’ reports and instructing them to reach the conclusion he wanted in order to protect his oversight of Nevada’s public higher education as one system.
Some regents raised their eyebrows at such skullduggery, but Klaich wiggled his way out of that mess. That was no surprise, really, considering how the chancellor’s job had become so powerful in Nevada and Klaich had created such an air of authority. His command over the system also shone in the organizational chart: There was a time when the chancellor and campus presidents were of equal footing, each reporting directly to the Board of Regents. But today, campus presidents report directly to Klaich, and he can fire a president with the support of just the board chairman.
Now, Klaich is in another mess owing to his behind-the-scenes manipulations. This time, as reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal based on emails it uncovered, Klaich paid a consultant to use its letterhead and wrote a memo on it that he passed off to the Legislature as originating with the consultant, and that undercut legislative efforts to reform the system’s funding formula.
The regents will meet May 12 to discuss his mischief.
And now, state lawmakers are getting in the mix. Assemblyman Elliot Anderson, D-Las Vegas, and Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Las Vegas, say they plan to introduce bills in the 2017 Legislature to reform the Nevada System of Higher Education. They say reforms are needed to create “a culture of accountability.”
At the top of their list: expanding legislative oversight and increasing transparency. Sadly, the regents had grown accustomed to a system of internal governance in which transparency was not an objective but something to be foiled.
Anderson and Woodhouse also propose:
• Clarifying the Legislature’s oversight role while maintaining the regents’ direct accountability to voters.
• Increasing regents’ resources so they can keep better tabs on the system.
• Returning to regents the power to hire and fire campus presidents.
• Requiring the presidents to present their institutions’ budgets to regents and legislators. (Klaich famously placed a gag order on presidents, banning them from going around his office in lobbying legislators for money.)
• Establishing advisory committees for higher ed campuses to better advocate for their campus-specific needs.
• Expanding whistleblower protection to higher ed employees, including when they know that false or misleading statements are being presented to the Legislature.
• Bringing the Nevada System of Higher Education under the purview of the Spending and Government Efficiency Commission, which meets quarterly and makes recommendations to the governor on how to improve education.
These are terrific suggestions. We applaud Anderson and Woodhouse for stepping up with them and hope their fellow lawmakers will embrace their call for reforms. It’s a good start. We’re saddened only in that such measures are necessary.
While the regents figure out how to do the job they were elected to do, perhaps Klaich will see the wisdom of taking personal responsibility for his role in this fiasco.