Las Vegas Sun

January 27, 2022

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EDITORIAL:

Feckless handling of sexism case is another black eye for Nevada’s higher ed system

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Wade Vandervort

Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents Chief of Staff to the Board Dean Gould speaks during a special meeting, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020.

Let’s say you were on the board of directors for a large company, and during an executive meeting you heard a company employee make blatantly sexist and demeaning remarks to one of your colleagues on the board.

What would you expect to happen?

1. The employee would be ordered to apologize immediately.

2. The employee would be disciplined or possibly dismissed.

3. A costly investigation would ensue, resulting in a vague announcement that “inappropriate comments” had been made and that rules of decorum had been violated.

If you answered A or B, congratulations on living in the real world, wherethere are consequences for inappropriate behavior.

If you answered C, you must be one of the people in charge of Nevada’s university system, whose atrocious track record on sexism and gender equality recently got even worse with its response to a situation like the one described above.

Here’s the background: During an August video meeting of the Nevada Board of Regents, the higher ed system’s general counsel, Dean Gould, told Regent Lisa Levine that he didn’t want to “manspeak” to her but would have to if she continued to “child-speak.” He further told her to mute herself. Gould’s comments came as Levine was strongly dissenting to a proposal to gut the system’s Title IX protections for sexual assault victims.

Video of Gould’s behavior exploded online, resulting in numerous calls for him to apologize and be disciplined. The Nevada Faculty Alliance summed up the outrage well in a statement demanding action against Gould.

“His use of sexist language in an attempt to cut off her discussion regarding Title IX sexual harassment regulations was not only ironic but utterly unconscionable,” the statement said. “It appears this most recent breakdown of decorum reflects a more pervasive broken culture of Board of Regents proceedings.”

But instead of heeding the justifiable calls for discipline, the regents hired a high-priced attorney from California to conduct an investigation. And last week, the regents chairman, Dr. Mark Doubrava, announced the investigation had revealed that comments during the August meeting and a previous meeting in July had fallen below the regents’ standards for decorum.

That was it. No discipline. No admonishment. In fact, the ruling even cast shade on Levine by mentioning the July meeting, in which Levine had accused Gould of “mansplaining.” Gould, in a pure display of white-male privilege, used that comment by Levine as an excuse for his remarks to her during the August meeting, saying he shouldn’t have stooped to her level.

The regents should have called him on the carpet, and kicked him out the door if he refused to show contrition.

Instead, for the nearly $10,000 they spent on the California attorney, what they got was a lesson on decorum. Doubrava said he’d requested a staff report on possible improvements to the rules of decorum.

It’s a clear case of sweeping a nasty incident under the rug.

But this isn’t the first time the regents have done so. One particularly appalling example came in 2015, when the Sun revealed that an employee of the system had quietly been rehired after being fired for watching pornography in his office and loudly masturbating behind his desk. The rehiring was discovered when a female employee who had witnessed the man’s behavior took a position at UNLV and discovered to her horror that the man had an office near hers.

There are other examples, but the bottom line is that the regents have long refused to hold themselves or the higher ed system’s employees accountable.

Keep in mind, we’re not talking about the presidents or administrations of individual colleges here. We’re talking about the regents and the Nevada System of Higher Education, who oversee the higher ed system in a way similar to a school board and superintendent’s office running a K-12 school district.

Levine, who was appointed to the board in June after the death of Regent Sam Lieberman, was absolutely right to oppose the Title IX changes, which came in response to a revolting threat by the Trump administration to withhold federal funding from universities unless they knuckled under in removing the protections for sexual assault victims.

Let’s be clear, too, that her “mansplaining” comment to Gould in no way justified his behavior.

Levine is exactly what the regents need: In her short time on the board, she’s shown she’s not afraid to speak out against the status quo and protect the vulnerable.

We add our voice to those encouraging her to keep up the good fight.

And to the regents in general, we say that Nevadans demand better accountability. The board members who want to be re-elected should pay attention.