Regents pick new president of Nevada State College

Everybody went into the search for a new Nevada State College president thinking the obvious: They would pick someone with a background steeped in academics.

Of course they would. They were talking about the leader of the state's newest college, the fastest-growing higher education institution in Nevada. They would need an academic to keep things on the straight and narrow, to work with an eager faculty, to help guide students who don't usually come from collegiate backgrounds.

But then they got to know Bart Patterson really well, and everything changed.

"We found somebody who we believe is going to be super for our college," Andy Kuniyuki, the associate dean of the school of liberal arts and sciences, told the Board of Regents on Monday.

Soon after, the board gave Patterson the job. There were smiles, applause even. Everything worked out amazingly.

But it was a weird road getting there.

Even Patterson, 50, acknowledged that. He trotted out the old saying that there are two things you shouldn't watch being made: sausage and legislation.

"I can tell you, sitting in this chair, there might be a third," he said after the vote, and it was clear he meant the process that got him the job.

Patterson had served as the Henderson college's interim president since November, when he took over for acting President Lesley Di Mare, who left for another job. She had been the school's leader since President Fred Maryanski's death the year before.

Couple all those changes with huge enrollment growth and the largest budget cuts of any college in the state, proportionally, and it has been a rocky couple of years at the college.

In walked Patterson.

Though he does not have a Ph.D. - he is a lawyer, having earned his law degree from Duke University - and he has never been a tenured faculty member, Patterson is familiar with the college.

He joined the state's higher education system in 2001 after a career in the private sector. Part of his duties were acting as the college's general counsel in its first few years. As he rose through the higher education system, serving as vice chancellor of administrative and legal affairs, he taught part time at the college. Soon, two of his own children became students there.

When the top spot opened up last year, he let his boss, Chancellor Dan Klaich, know he was interested.

While Patterson served as interim president, a search was launched to fill the spot with a traditional president.

Nearly the entire faculty said they wanted someone with a strong academic background, so that was put in the job advertisement.

Dozens applied. Applications were culled. Six people were invited for interviews. One dropped out, but five showed up last week, including Patterson.

The first candidate, a dean from a Florida university, wowed everyone. So did another one, a former provost from Nevada State College.

The final candidate, a provost from a California university, hit it out of the park. Everyone loved her.

It was clear that last candidate, Soraya Coley from California State University, Bakersfield, was the pick of many of the regents on the selection committee.

But then something happened. The advisory committee - faculty, alumni, community members with a stake in what goes on at the college - all favored Patterson. There had been a sea change.

"In the end, it was so clear that the entire institutional advisory board had rallied around Bart Patterson," Robin Herlands, the Faculty Senate chair, told the Board on Monday. She said Patterson understood the college's mission and had a vision for where the college should go.

"That was Bart," she said. "It was really an easy decision in the end."

That's why the motion was made in the committee to nominate Patterson, why it was approved, why the board voted his nomination through easily on Monday.

But it was not without controversy. Two regents voted against his recommendation in the committee.

Cedric Crear said he supported Coley. Mark Doubrava, who Monday was the only member of the board to vote against Patterson's appointment, said he wasn't comfortable abandoning what they had set out to do: Hire an academic.

Klaich called the moment bittersweet. He would be losing his right arm at the system's head office, he said.

"Sometimes, good guys finish first," he said. "And this is one of those times."