Las Vegas Sun

October 23, 2019

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Sun editorial:

Three years is too long to postpone search for new president at UNLV

Faculty leaders at UNLV have offered up a hit-and-miss idea with their newly proposed solution to the university’s leadership turmoil.

In the proposal, which will go before the faculty senate for a vote next week, the faculty would urge the Nevada Board of Regents to postpone the national search for UNLV’s next president. That’s the good element of the idea, for reasons we’ll soon get into.

But from there, the proposal goes off-track. First, faculty leaders are calling for far too long of a delay in the search — three years. Second, they propose that the current temporary UNLV leader, Marta Meana, be given a three-year contract as interim president in the meantime.

We think that’s not the best course of action for the university.

That’s not a knock on Meana, who has done a competent job as acting/interim president and certainly has drawn support among the faculty. But it’s vital to ensure that UNLV gets the best candidate for the job, and handing Meana a three-year deal runs counter to that need.

Instead, it essentially establishes Meana as the long-term president without any competition. It also threatens to short-circuit the search that would take place in 2021-’22 under the proposal’s timeline, as it would give Meana a prohibitive advantage short of a significant failing. Talk about a job audition, and think what a chilling effect it would have on interest from other candidates.

So here’s a better idea: Postpone the search until 2020 and put Meana on a one-year contract.

This makes sense in light of two developments coming next year in higher-education oversight in Nevada. One, Chancellor Thom Reilly has announced he’ll step down after his three-year contract expires in August 2020. Two, voters will decide a ballot question in November 2020 that would clarify the scope of the Nevada Board of Regents’ authority and would clear the way for significant changes in how the board is structured.

These are both significant events in terms of the search.

The presidents of Nevada’s universities report to the chancellor, who serves as the equivalent of a superintendent in a public school district. That being the case, any president hired this year would have to take the job not knowing who his or her boss would be after August 2020. That uncertainty wouldn’t help in attracting a deep pool of highly qualified candidates.

The ballot question will determine who oversees the chancellor and how higher-education governance is structured. The regents serve as the chancellor’s bosses — they function akin to the school board of a public school system. The question would erase confusing language in the Nevada Constitution regarding the regents, and clarify that the board is accountable to state lawmakers.

But regardless of the ballot question’s outcome, it will eliminate another layer of uncertainty that could dampen interest in the UNLV presidency. The board will either be at status quo or on a path to having its authority curtailed.

Again, this isn’t about Meana. It’s about making sure that UNLV gets the best person available. With the university now on its sixth leader since 2006, including temporaries, a vigorous search and selection process are needed to find the right person. Meana may be exactly that person, but only a search will tell.

That being the case, there’s no compelling reason to wait until 2021-22 to conduct the search. UNLV would be best served by a search next year, a one-year contract for Meana and an opportunity for her to be a candidate.