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Nevada’s new higher education boss vows to work with lawmakers

Nevada’s new higher education boss has vowed to forge partnerships with lawmakers before they meet next year to consider changing how the state’s colleges and universities are governed.

“Project No. 1 is engaging the Legislature,” John White said Friday, moments after he was approved to lead the Nevada System of Higher Education. “Naturally, the Legislature has some issues with the system, so I’ll also be engaging them about their ideas for reform.”

White — a UNLV law professor and former administrator — will take the NSHE’s helm as acting chancellor in July, assuming the role for up to a year while officials seek a permanent replacement. He’ll earn an annual base salary of $303,000, plus $32,000 in automobile and housing allowances. White succeeds Dan Klaich, who oversaw the agency for seven years before his controversial retirement this month.

“Today begins a new chapter for NSHE,” Board of Regents Chairman Rick Trachok said before board members voted unanimously to hire White. “We will continue to work to build bridges with our legislative leaders.”

Higher education is poised to be a key priority during next year’s legislative session, and the state’s chancellor will play a critical role as policymakers tackle sweeping initiatives to improve colleges and universities. Lawmakers and community leaders — many frustrated with NSHE’s governance structure — have spent months crafting proposals to reform the system.

Efforts to overhaul NSHE have intensified in the wake of Klaich’s retirement, which followed a Las Vegas Review-Journal investigation that raised concerns that the ex-chancellor misled lawmakers about a new system for distributing money among NSHE schools.

Lawmakers have praised NSHE’s selection of White. Assemblyman Elliot Anderson, D-Las Vegas, among a few policymakers drafting reform bills, called it “a positive signal.”

“I have great admiration for him,” state Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, said. “John certainly has the wherewithal, the expertise and the level of trustworthiness to be able to effect positive change at the legislative level.”

White, who made an unsuccessful bid for UNLV president in 2014, served as the university’s second-in-command from July 2012 until February 2015. He resigned as provost a month after Len Jessup was chosen to lead the school instead. White also spent five years as dean of UNLV’s Boyd School of Law and now serves as an adviser to Jessup, the university’s president.

Some lawmakers and education insiders have raised concerns that the appointment may create an awkward relationship between White and Jessup. Others, like Ford, have brushed aside those suggestions, calling both men “consummate professionals.”

“While it may appear awkward and may even be initially awkward, I don’t think it’s going to be a barrier,” Ford said. “I’m not concerned at all about it.”

Contact Ana Ley at aley@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5512. Find @la__ley on Twitter.

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