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Nevada chancellor: ‘Abusive’ Board of Regents leaders out to get me

The chancellor of Nevada’s colleges and universities is making scathing accusations against two leaders of the Board of Regents, saying they have created a hostile work environment by seeking to undermine her authority and engaging in “a shocking series of secret decisions and abuses of power.”

Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Melody Rose, who has been on the job just over a year, invoked whistleblower protection laws in a memorandum outlining her claims against board Chairwoman Cathy McAdoo and Vice Chairman Patrick Carter.

The 21-page memo, which was addressed to NSHE’s Chief General Counsel Joe Reynolds, references a “hostile work environment complaint” in its title and requests that the system investigate her account.

John Sadler, a spokesman for the Nevada attorney general’s office, said Thursday that it also had received a copy of the memorandum “outlining allegations of harassment, abuse of power and possible violations of the open meetings law.” But no formal complaint has been filed with the office, he said.

A spokesman for NSHE, which oversees the state’s eight college campuses and more than 100,000 students, declined to confirm or deny the existence of a hostile work environment complaint, stating it “does not comment on personnel matters.”

McAdoo and Carter did not return phone calls seeking comment on Thursday.

Rose did not respond to a request for comment.

What the memo alleges

The memo alleging a hostile work environment complaint, dated Monday, charges that McAdoo and Carter engaged in “persistent hostility, abuse of power, consistent undermining, and multiple violations of Board of Regents (BOR) Handbook and policy, as well as my own contract.”

Rose alleges she has experienced “abusive treatment” since late June, when regents selected McAdoo and Carter for board leadership roles. They began in those positions July 1 with terms that run through June 30, 2022.

“I believe that the new Board of Regent officers, Chairwoman McAdoo and Vice Chairman Carter, ran for their leadership positions deliberately to marginalize me and to limit my effectiveness, and that their ultimate intention is my dismissal,” she said.

Rose said she previously worked in a supportive environment and had a “healthy and happy working relationship” with then-Chair Mark Doubrava and Vice Chair Carol Del Carlo.

That changed when McAdoo and Carter took over, she said.

“The abuse I have experienced since the leadership turnover has been persistent and unrelenting and is affecting both my own ability to perform but that of Cabinet members, as well,” she wrote.

The chancellor said both McAdoo and Carter went around her on numerous occasions and in some instances instructed her subordinates not to share information with her. An example, Rose wrote, occurred when she was effectively cut out of discussion and vetting of a deal in which the University of Nevada, Reno, acquired the private Sierra Nevada University in Incline Village. The board approved an agreement in July allowing for the merger.

Rose said she experienced, along with the NSHE Cabinet, “a shocking series of secret decisions and abuses of power” on the matter that undermined her authority.

Rose said it led to “regrettable, unnecessary friction between our office and the UNR leadership team and a hurried and incomplete due diligence process which would undermine the (Board of Regents’) role as fiduciary.”

Rose also said that McAdoo had on several occasions stated that she had reached policy decisions based on “conversations with God,” including an instance where she contacted a staff member directly and told that individual not to share the details with Rose.

Hired unanimously last year

Regents voted unanimously in June 2020 to hire Rose as the new chancellor, following a recommendation by a search committee that interviewed four finalists. Her base salary was set at $437,750.

She started on the job in September 2020, replacing Chancellor Thom Reilly, who stepped down when his contract ended.

Rose had previously owned a consulting firm that provided services to universities and served as chancellor of the now-disbanded Oregon University System, as president of the now-closed private Marylhurst University in Oregon, and as a faculty member and in leadership roles at Portland State University.

In the memo, Rose noted that she was hired with a lower salary than UNLV and University of Nevada, Reno, presidents — both of whom have a base salary of $500,000 per year — despite having more experience in higher education executive leadership.

Rose, who said she’s the first permanent female NSHE chancellor in 20 years, also said she heard stories immediately after arriving on the job about “NSHE’s persistent disregard for female employees,” as well as warnings about an “Old Boys Club” environment and requests for her assistance changing it.

In a Wednesday statement, Kris Engelstad McGarry, a trustee of The Engelstad Foundation, which has supported higher education projects in the state, said Rose has her complete support.

“She is a consummate professional and has been a breath of fresh air since being unanimously approved as the chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education last year,” McGarry said. “You can see and feel her passion for elevating the educational landscape in our state.”

The same can’t be said about the Board of Regents, McGarry said, noting that in addition to the “horrendous climate that Melody has shed light on,” it’s the latest in a “string of disingenuous, nefarious practices by this group.”

“The Board of Regents system in itself is archaic and clearly broken,” McGarry said. “At a minimum, until regents are appointed that do not have harmful personal and/or political agendas, we will continue to have even more ‘here we go again with the Board of Regents’ moments down the line.”

McGarry wasn’t available for further comment.

Chancellor’s allegations

In the memo, Rose alleges McAdoo had “numerous complaints” from January to August about “the way my office was handling public communications.”

When NSHE issued a press release in May about its plans to create a COVID-19 vaccination policy “in case the vaccines became required,” the intent was to make it clear the system was being proactive and wanted to craft plans in case federal agencies, the state or Board of Regents moved in that direction, Rose said.

She said that due to staffing gaps and end-of-legislative session activities, she didn’t properly vet the press release and it “went out with stronger language than I intended.”

Rose said the reaction from regents was mixed, and she apologized and explained the situation. She said only two regents, including McAdoo, weren’t satisfied with that.

She said she believes McAdoo decided to run for board chair after that.

“It felt at the time that the new officers ran on a platform to strip my authority, though their issues with my performance have remained elusive and only expressed to me second-hand,” Rose said. “That has been my experience ever since.”

Rose said that during an officers meeting in late July, NSHE presented a task force recommendation to require face masks for all on every NSHE campus and asked for the board to take action.

Rose said she had called McAdoo to consult with her, and they agreed a decision needed board input and should be systemwide.

But during the officers meeting, McAdoo reversed her position and said the board “has no place deciding masks or anything else about COVID — it is the governor’s responsibility,” Rose wrote.

Board officers never took action on the mask requirement for campuses, ignored her recommendation and never responded to her email request for action or direction, she said. Gov. Steve Sisolak issued a mask mandate several days later.

“Chairwoman McAdoo called me, telling me that she had been praying on the issue and that through the governor’s decision, God had answered her prayers,” Rose said.

In early August, NSHE issued a legal opinion saying the State Board of Health had authority over student vaccinations. The following day, Rose received a call from the governor’s office wanting to meet to discuss Board of Health interest in student vaccinations.

A NSHE Cabinet member received a call from McAdoo that day making reference to an “illusive plan” Rose supposedly had with the governor about student vaccines, noting she “wants nothing to do with it,” according to the memo.

On Aug. 4, Rose shared the system’s COVID-19 task force recommendation about mandatory student vaccines. She said she shared the recommendation with board officers, but didn’t receive a response.

Rose said a Cabinet member called her that day to say McAdoo had called and stated “God gave her a plan” for resolving the student vaccine issue.

McAdoo also asked the Cabinet member to keep the conversation confidential and not share it with Rose, according to the memo.

“Once again: The chairwoman was making a decision based on a conversation with God, going around me and my direct reports, causing chaos in the midst of a health crisis, and then asking my team members to assist her in executing a plan without my knowledge,” Rose wrote.

Later that month, the State Board of Health voted to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for students by Nov. 1 in order to enroll in spring 2022 classes. And in September, NSHE’s Board of Regents voted to require COVID-19 shots for employees.

Other issue beyond COVID-19

In the memo, Rose also raises concerns with other incidents beyond COVID-19 policy.

Before the new board officers were installed, troubles began with their handling of UNR’s acquisition of the private Sierra Nevada University in Incline Village, she alleged. The board approved an agreement in July allowing for the merger.

Rose said she experienced, along with the NSHE Cabinet, “a shocking series of secret decisions and abuses of power” that undermined her authority.

Rose said it led to “regrettable, unnecessary friction between our office and the UNR leadership team and a hurried and incomplete due diligence process which would undermine the (Board of Regents’) role as fiduciary.”

In the memo, Rose also said she learned in late September that McAdoo “has no fewer than 28 upcoming meetings, all scheduled at her request, with various individuals to discuss my performance.”

“She did not inform me of this action herself; rather, I learned it from the individuals she sought out,” Rose said. “Some of them are deeply concerned that they are being swept into an inappropriate personnel action and do not know how to respond. These meetings, I assume, are to gather information and opinions regarding my performance for a review she is not authorized to conduct.”

Rose said the effects of the hostile environment are taking a toll on her physical and mental health and are also “creating an environment where I cannot fulfill my obligations to NSHE and the state, and the results of my ineffectiveness will ultimately harm higher education in the state of Nevada.”

“I cannot know the officers’ motives for this abusive behavior,” she said. “However, I do not believe my male predecessor was ever treated this way.”

Rose said she hopes the Board of Regents will “protect me from this abuse and support me in doing the job they hired me to do.”

“I love this job, our mission, my new home, and the people with whom I have the privilege to work,” she said.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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