Search firm to be hired to find next UNLV president

A consulting firm will be hired to search nationally for UNLV’s next president, according to a unanimous decision Friday by the six Nevada System of Higher Education regents on the presidential search committee.

“We have a very important but challenging task ahead of us,” said Regent Rick Trachok, asserting that the committee can’t expect to “sit back and let the best candidates come to us.” They must be sought out.

Quotes from search firms would be requested after the committee’s first meeting Friday, Chief of Staff and Legal Counsel Scott Wasserman told the committee consisting of the six voting regents and 37 nonvoting advisory members. In the past, hiring a firm for a university president search has cost between $75,000 and $100,000, he said.

The committee plans to reconvene May 2 to hear presentations from three or four interested search firms and hire one that same day. The committee will then sit down with the chosen firm on June 2 to determine the search parameters, committee Chairman and Regent Mark Doubrava said.

The firm will launch a wide-ranging search for suitable candidates and submit about three semifinalists to the search committee. The benefit of hiring a search firm is that applicants — who may be sitting presidents at other universities — would remain unidentified and only be named if they are semifinalists, Wasserman said. The committee will nominate one finalist. The 13-member Board of Regents must then confirm the nomination.

Several advisory board members expressed concern about whether UNLV’s 10th president will be in place by the unofficial deadline of Sept. 1, replacing Neal Smatresk, who left in February to become president of the University of North Texas for a base salary of $505,000.

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas stands at a “pivotal point,” trying to become a Carnegie Tier 1 research university, wanting to start a medical school and building a new stadium while also dealing with budget cuts and preparing for state lawmaker’s biennial session in 2015, Regent Cedric Crear said. The new president must understand UNLV’s current position and where the university needs to go, he said.

While supporting using a search firm, several regents asserted that picking the firm is almost as vital as picking the president. A pro-active firm assures that the committee sees the best candidates, and not a “stale” list.

Having learned from experience, Crear said some firms push the same candidates to schools in search after search.

“We’ve had some good search firms and some bad search firms,” said Crear, referring to the presidential searches for Nevada State College and the University of Nevada, Reno.

The NSC search firm provided a variety of qualified candidates while the UNR search firm provided less to choose from, he said. A contract can be negotiated with the firm so that a new semifinalists list can be requested if the search committee isn’t satisfied, Wasserman said.

While the large committee seemed in agreement about hiring a search firm, they disagreed on some of the desired candidate qualifications. Faculty representatives requested an academic leader with a doctoral degree and research experience. Committee members representing the business community said they’re less concerned about requiring a long list of academic titles behind applicants’ names, which may exclude worthy applicants before they even apply.