Regents weigh plan to change how they oversee some colleges

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

STATELINE — Nevada’s higher education board is weighing a proposal to change the way it oversees some of the state’s schools, a suggestion met with a mix of skepticism and support during a special meeting Thursday.

Under the plan, proposed by Board of Regents Chairman Rick Trachok, the state’s two universities and its Henderson-based state college would each be overseen by a committee made up of about five community members and two regents.

“We’re creating another layer of bureaucracy that has no authority,” Regent Cedric Crear told the group who met near Lake Tahoe on the first day of a two-day gathering. “Why not bring issues directly to the board?”

During a winding, five-hour discussion about how the board governs the Nevada System of Higher Education and its eight institutions, some regents voiced enthusiasm for the plan, while others raised concerns about replicating the jobs of existing boards and drawing divisions among colleges.

Tensions flared briefly when Regent Trevor Hayes suggested that the committees could welcome more minorities to engage in board discussions, drawing a sharp objection from Regent Allison Stephens — the only woman of color on the 13-member regent panel.

“I have significant concerns about regionalism or advocacy for a particular institution when it comes to governance,” Stephens said. “I absolutely believe that we should be looking out for the entire state of Nevada.”

This week’s lightly attended meeting comes as Republican and Democratic lawmakers draft their own proposals to overhaul the system and its overseeing Board of Regents. Those legislators have complained that the meeting, held inside a secluded lakeside campground, isn’t being live streamed for Southern Nevadans who can’t attend in person. The board typically holds joint meetings in the northern and southern parts of the state, whose major cities are more than 400 miles apart.

While the proposal to create the committees was tabled Thursday, Trachok said the topic may come up again in future meetings.

“Perhaps this specific iteration that was presented the board” should be presented differently, Regent Michael Wixom said. “We’re still anxious to do better and find a way to effectively keep up.”

The 13-member panel will reconvene Friday to discuss the role of NSHE’s chancellor — a topic thrust into the public spotlight earlier this year when former Chancellor Dan Klaich resigned in response to protests from lawmakers and the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce. Their cries followed a Review-Journal article examining emails from Klaich, which raised concerns that the ex-chancellor misled the Legislature about a new formula for distributing money among colleges and universities.

Since Klaich’s resignation, the system has been temporarily overseen by John Valery White, a UNLV law professor and former administrator.

Regents plan to talk about White’s successor and what duties and powers the chancellor should hold. For more than a decade, NSHE’s chancellor has been the state’s most powerful higher education figure — one who wields the ability to reprimand or fire any college president.

“It’s important for us to spend a lot of time and have a vigorous discussion” on governance topics, Trachok told the group on Thursday.