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May 24, 2019

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Analysis: Regents’ vote on UNLV president search raises concern of chilling effect

2018 State Of The University Address

Steve Marcus

UNLV Acting President Marta Meana gives the annual State of the University address at UNLV Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018.

The Nevada Board of Regents today launched a national search for the next UNLV president and gave acting president Marta Meana special permission to be a candidate.

But in opening the door to Meana, did the regents just undercut their own search?

At least two regents were asking that question today after the board waived a rule barring acting presidents from becoming candidates for permanent president roles.

While Meana faced no criticism over her performance, Regent Patrick Carter said he was concerned that waiving the rule “would limit the applicants who would be willing to apply against a sitting president.”

Carter voted for the waiver despite that concern, but Regent John Moran cited the same concern in casting the lone “no” vote.

“I want the best and brightest for UNLV,” Moran told the Sun after the meeting. “We need to have a rock star. And I’m afraid that it’s going to deter candidates from applying when they see us waving rules like this; and if they think we already have a Manchurian Candidate — a chosen one?”

Moran stressed that he believed Meana had done well, but he questioned how anyone could be considered an ideal candidate after just months on the job.

Regent Donald McMichael Sr. may have given weight to concerns over a chilling effect on applications when he asked whether the regents could abandon the search and select Meana, signalling that he felt the regents had already found their candidate.

Of course, the issue would be moot if Meana opts not to enter the search. But that appears unlikely, as Meana said after the vote that she “most likely” would seek the position.

“The intent is to do so,” she said.

Chancellor Thom Reilly said the rule waiver proposal came about after the UNLV community expressed support for Meana during town hall gatherings regarding the search.

Douglas Unger, president of the UNLV Faculty Senate, told the regents that Meana had done an extraordinary job of solving problems, building alliances between campus groups and helping UNLV heal after the tumultuous departure of former President Len Jessup last year. Greg McKinley, chairman of the UNLV Foundation, also spoke in favor of allowing Meana to be part of the search.

“I cannot tell you how impressed I am with Marta,” McKinley said. “She’s a fantastic leader for UNLV.”

Meana was named UNLV’s acting president in June, following the departure of Jessup amid what he described as “unfounded and unjustified” criticism from Chancellor Thom Reilly and some members of the Board of Regents.

When Meana took the position, NSHE announced that she told Reilly that she did not want the permanent role. In an interview with the Sun in August, however, she was noncommittal about whether she would consider succeeding Jessup.

“It would depend on too many things that I can’t judge right now,” she said at the time.

Meana joined the UNLV faculty as a psychology professor in 1997 and had been dean of the university’s Honors College for six years when she was named acting president.

She inherited the aftermath of a broken relationship between key donors and NSHE over Jessup’s departure. Donors who had supported Jessup withdrew or announced they were reconsidering more than $40 million in funds for a new building for the UNLV School of Medicine, citing distrust of NSHE and the board of regents to steward the contributions responsibly.

Meana helped develop an alternative plan for the med school facility, which was rolled out this past August and called for a two-phase construction approach that included a $57 million library building and a $180 million educational building.

But that plan, which would rely on a mix of tax dollars and private contributions, landed with a thud when principal donors declined to support it. In addition, they contradicted statements by Meana that they had been consulted and were on board.

Meana is UNLV’s sixth leader since 2006, counting acting president Don Snyder in 2014-15.