New Acting UNLV President Don Snyder didn’t lobby for the job. And that’s one reason he won it Friday.
The other primary contender, former UNLV President Carol Harter, had advocates in her corner, including television mogul Jim Rogers. Some in the world of academia found that polarizing and said so to Chancellor Dan Klaich and Regents President Kevin Page.
Was that the deciding point for 11 regents or the two who abstained? No.
But it seems Rogers and Harter overplayed their hands when he told me last November that he was backing Harter over Snyder. This was a complete reversal from 2006, when then-Chancellor Rogers was the powerhouse pushing Harter out of the presidency she had held for 11 years.
In 2006, he accused her of alienating donors and micro-managing.
In 2013, they had become close friends through the bond Harter developed with Beverly Rogers at the Black Mountain Institute, recently renamed in their honor after Jim Rogers contributed $10 million to the institute.
Klaich’s memo spelled out which segments of the university and the community supported Snyder and which favored the logical choice, the more academically experienced Harter.
One wag offered a credible theory explaining the choice of Snyder, a successful banker, gamer, businessman and prolific fundraiser known for taking on tough assignments and finishing them.
During the time between now and whenever a permanent president is chosen, Provost John White, a former dean of the law school, will do a lot of the heavy lifting at the university. Snyder will be president, but he will leave a lot of the operation to White while he focuses on the big picture. Then White might be more likely to get the permanent job even after a national search.
The strong-willed Harter would not let the provost run the show if she were acting president. She would be a hands-on, involved-in-everything president.
White’s supporters for the permanent job said clearly that they supported Snyder for the acting job because he would leave many things in the hands of the provost.
That’s not to say that Snyder’s way doesn’t work.
Someone who attended meetings with him said there’s always a lot of people around a table, and he’s the only one taking notes, zeroing in on the meat of the issue.
At the end, he focuses on what the point is and what the next step should be. He doesn’t just ramble to hear his own voice. He is thinking about results and how to achieve them.
Klaich’s 12-page memo explained why after 14 meetings over three days, he believed Snyder was “by far the strongest candidate.” It also showed the breakdown of the candidates’ support. The faculty went for Harter, the business community aligned with Snyder. Business trumped academia.
Playing it safe and remaining neutral were the Faculty Senate, the Athletics Department, the Deans’ Council, graduate student leaders, the President’s Cabinet, the President’s Advisory Council, CORE Fellows and Graduate Council and the Provost’s Senior Staff.
The Deans’ Council said White would be “an extremely strong candidate in a national search.” Some deans said White was the primary reason they were at UNLV.
“A number of the deans expressed concerns about what they perceive to have been campaigning for the position of acting president and the polarizing impact it has had on campus,” Klaich wrote.
Snyder won the support from people who knew him best — community leaders from banking, technology, education and the philanthropic community. The Foundation Board he once chaired and the Alumni Board backed him. So did a group representing African-American professionals and faculty.
Oddly, undergraduate student leaders didn’t attend their scheduled meeting to voice a position. Perhaps apathy kept them away.
The Graduate and Professional Students Association focused on process for the permanent job, again, not taking a position on Snyder or Harter. At least they showed up.
The Athletics Department stayed neutral, saying Harter could do the job and praising Snyder for his work as dean of the Hotel College for three years
Harter was supported by the Academic Leadership Group, the Chemistry Department, the president of the Graduate and Professional Students Association and a group representing Hispanic faculty. A letter-writing campaign from faculty and faculty groups supporting Harter started in December after my column ran.
Klaich didn’t consider White because he didn’t want to eliminate him from becoming the permanent president.
There was some concern expressed that Snyder lacked academic credentials, but the late Kenny Guinn, before he became governor, ran UNLV for a year and he never had been a top administrator in a university.
Many people said positive things about the likeable Snyder, and I have no doubt this charming workhorse can do the job, continue working on a stadium, move forward on a medical school and help a new president ease into the community.
I’ve never run into anyone who doesn’t like Snyder or anyone who criticized his work ethic. I don’t know how, without pay, he raised millions for the Smith Center of Performing Arts at the same time he was heading operations to create the Fremont Street Experience.
Smart money is on White to get the permanent job following a national search. He just needs to woo those community leaders who hold so much sway over the decision-making process at UNLV.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275.