In the more than six weeks since the chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education complained that leaders of the Board of Regents had created a hostile workplace environment, the system has continued to operate with no outward signs of the strife taking place behind closed doors.
Fall classes continued as scheduled, planned COVID-19 vaccination mandates for students and faculty drew closer, and UNLV’s struggling football team ceded the Fremont Cannon to rival University of Nevada, Reno, in their annual gridiron matchup.
But Chancellor Melody Rose’s bombshell allegations that she had been subject to “abusive treatment” by Board of Regents Chair Cathy McAdoo and Vice Chair Patrick Carter have had a major impact, bringing official board business and policy discussion to a virtual standstill and sending ripples of concern through the system’s eight colleges and research institutions.
That could change with the Nov. 12 election of new temporary leaders of the board, as regents are emphasizing the need to work together, even as an independent investigation into Rose’s accusations continues.
Among those preaching unity is Carter, who stepped down from his leadership post but remains on the board representing sprawling District 6 in southern Clark County.
‘I think we’re all adults’
“I think we’re all adults,” Carter said in his first interview since a memo outlining Rose’s accusations became public in early October, adding that he, McAdoo and other regents will have to figure out how to move forward.
“We’re all focused on the students and higher education in our state,” said Carter, adding that the board has had to ride out other controversies and undoubtedly will again in the future.
As with other regents interviewed for this article, he said he could not comment directly on Rose’s allegations.
The board voted 7-4 at the Nov. 12 meeting to select Carol Del Carlo as board chair and Amy Carvalho as vice chair to serve until the conclusion of the investigation. It was the first time the board had met since late September.
Del Carlo, who represents Carson City, Churchill, Douglas, Esmeralda, Lander, Lyon, Mineral, Storey and Washoe counties, and Carvalho, whose District 12 includes Paradise, much of Henderson and Boulder City, provided a joint statement via email indicating they are eager to get back to business.
The reason the regents elected temporary officers is “so that we can continue conducting regular business” and a December quarterly meeting can go forward as scheduled, they said.
“The Board of Regents remains committed to our role of setting policies and approving budgets for Nevada’s public system of higher education through the lens of our strategic goals of access, success, closing the achievement gap, workforce development and research,” the statement said.
Now more than ever, regents must be “more unified and focused on our job of setting the policies that will grow student success so we can meet the needs of our communities and state,” they concluded.
McAdoo didn’t respond to a Review-Journal request for comment.
Rose also has been silent on the matter publicly since she sent a memo dated Oct. 4 to NSHE Chief General Counsel Joe Reynolds outlining her accusations against McAdoo and Carter. But she indicated last week at an event hosted by the Nevada Independent that she has no plans to leave her position, which she has held since September 2020 at an annual base salary of $437,750.
“I am here because I have the best job in the state of Nevada,” said Rose, who is under contract through Aug. 31, 2024. “I say that, and it’s not hyperbole. To be an advocate on behalf of 107,000 students across the state is the most unbelievable privilege.”
Timing of memo termed problematic
In the memo, Rose accused Carter and McAdoo of repeatedly attempting to undermine her authority and cut her out of policy-making decisions and referred to systemic issues affecting women employees.
NSHE directed Review-Journal inquiries about the investigation to Scott Abbott with the law firm Kamer Zucker Abbott, who hasn’t responded to requests for comment.
Carter said the timing of Rose’s memo, which was filed the day before she began a two-week vacation, complicated plans to hand over leadership roles while her allegations are investigated.
Carter said it may have appeared that he and McAdoo were trying to hang onto their posts, but it took time before things were figured out operationally so the board could move to the selection of new temporary officers.
Carter also stated that he hopes there will be more public information released once the investigation is complete than occurred with an investigation last year while Del Carlo was the board’s vice chair.
He was referring to the board’s hiring of an outside attorney to investigate incidents at two board meetings in 2020 involving then-Chief of Staff and Special Counsel Dean Gould and former Regent Lisa Levine.
Gould was publicly condemned for disparaging Levine by telling her to stop with her “child speak” at an Aug. 7 meeting, a comment that he later said came in response to Levine accused him of “mansplaining” while he was attempting to prevent an open meeting law violation at an earlier meeting.
Gould retired on Dec. 31 and the results of the investigation were not made public.
Faculty, students watch from afar
Faculty and student leaders across NSHE have watched the situation unfold, but have for the most part remained on the sidelines.
The Nevada Faculty Alliance isn’t commenting on the complaint, President Kent Ervin said via email.
“We at the Nevada Faculty Alliance strive to have good working relationships with all administrators and regents, while we advocate on behalf of our faculty members,” he said.
College of Southern Nevada student body President Zachary Johnigan said last week he has been following Rose’s complaint closely from the beginning.
Johnigan, a 28-year-old who’s studying world languages, said CSN’s student government is confident that the regents will make the correct decision as far as the complaint and leadership choices, noting he also believes they’re being proactive in addressing the situation.
Johnigan said that many CSN students still remain unaware of the drama unfolding in the state’s college system.
“Automatically, I thought everyone knew about it but that’s actually not really the case,” he said.
UNLV student body President Caren Royce Yap said last week that she has followed the situation with the chancellor’s complaint closely and has tried to ensure her student government leaders are educated about the Board of Regents.
“It was something I was very surprised by,” she said of Rose’s complaint.
Yap, a 20-year-old who’s studying business marketing and international business, said that although it’s serious situation at NSHE, it hasn’t affected the functions of UNLV’s student government.
And if you polled a random student at the university — which has more than 31,000 students — they would likely have no idea what the Board of Regents is, let alone that the chancellor filed a complaint, she said.
Former NSHE regent weighs in
The Review-Journal also reached out to about 10 former NSHE officials — regents, chancellors and college and university presidents — for their thoughts about Rose’s complaint and the relationship between regents and system administrators. They either declined to comment or didn’t respond to interview requests.
The exception was Jill Derby, a former NSHE regent and expert on college and university governance, who agreed to speak generally about the impact such a public spat could have on the state’s higher education system
Derby, who was elected as a regent in 1988 and served until 2006, including three terms as board chair, said “tension between a chancellor and a board is not uncommon.” But in terms of best practices, she added, “a number of them have really been breached in this case.”
She sees two major differences between Rose’s accusations and previous disputes involving Nevada regents and chancellors: The fact that she filed a complaint against regents and the way “this has all played out in the public.”
Derby — who lives in Gardnerville, about 30 minutes south of Carson City, and is a senior consultant for the national Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges in Washington, D.C. — said it’s unique in her experience for a chancellor who serves at the pleasure of the board to put forth a complaint leveled directly at her bosses.
The public attention the matter has received also shows why most personnel matters are best handled internally, she said, including in past instances in Nevada where a chancellor lost the support of a majority of the board.
As a regent, in addition to fiduciary responsibility, it’s important to protect the reputations of the institutions you serve, Derby said. Schools are competing for students and reputation, which she described as a “precious commodity,” truly matters, she added.
“To have this kind of public airing of this horrendous dispute is just troubling on this level to me,” she said.
She said she hopes the board’s temporary leaders will be able to pull regents together. Ideally, she said, the investigation will be finished by the board’s next meeting on Dec. 2-3. and the regents will be able to chart the required course after receiving a report and any recommendations.
But to move forward, the board must recognize the reputational damage that’s been done to the state’s higher education system and how important it is to find common ground, Derby said.
“I think this will be a tough one because it played out in the public,” she said.
Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.