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UNLV president will stay for another 4 years

UNLV President Keith Whitfield will remain on the job for another four years.

The Nevada Board of Regents voted to approve a new contract during a Friday meeting at Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas.

Regent Byron Brooks was the lone vote in opposition. He said he wasn’t going to approve the contract as written, saying he has “obvious concerns” about contract language.

Brooks said it’s the only reason he wasn’t approving it, telling Whitfield, “I certainly approve and am happy to see you continue on at UNLV.”

Whitfield started on the job in 2020 leading the university, which has about 31,000 students. He was hired under a four-year contract that expires in late August.

Under his new contract, Whitfield’s base salary will be $565,600 per year — a $65,600 increase. The agreement begins Aug. 24 and continues through late August 2028.

He’ll also receive an $8,000 yearly car allowance, $18,000 yearly housing allowance and $5,000 yearly host account.

After the vote, Whitfield thanked regents for the confidence in him they’ve offered.

“I’ve told people this before, this is the best job I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot of jobs,” he said.

Whitfield thanked UNLV’s faculty, staff and students.

He said the evaluation process gave him some points to think about in terms of his leadership, noting there were “valuable gems” in that information.

Regents also voted Friday to approve a new contract for Desert Research Institute President Kumud Acharya. The institute has campuses in Las Vegas and Reno.

Brooks said he was “really uncomfortable” with some of the contract language. He told Acharya: “I am certainly a ‘yes’ to you.”

Regent Joseph Arrascada expressed concerns about language in both presidents’ contracts, but approved them.

Acharya has done amazing work and has taken DRI to the next level, Arrascada said, calling him “absolutely fantastic.”

Acharya was appointed permanent president in 2020 after serving in the role on an interim basis for one year. His current four-year contract expires in September.

Acharya’s new contract begins Sept. 12 and continues through mid-September 2028. His annual base salary will be $423,581.76 — a nearly $104,000 boost.

Acharya will also receive an $8,000 yearly car allowance, $24,000 housing yearly housing allowance and $5,000 yearly host account.

There was applause in the meeting room Friday after each president’s contract was approved.

After the vote, Acharya thanked regents, and DRI’s faculty and staff.

He also thanked his “tremendous leadership team,” noting, “they make me look good every day.”

“I look forward to the next four years,” Acharya said.

After asking questions of Whitfield and Acharya about their first term as president, regents voted Thursday — the first day of a two-day meeting — to accept evaluation reports for both leaders.

Regent concerns

A couple of regents raised concerns Friday about some of the contract provisions.

Brooks said he was concerned about a clause that Whitfield reports to the NSHE chancellor, saying there was board conversation and an ad hoc committee about executive roles.

There was back-and-forth conversation between Brooks and the board attorney, who advised that regents can’t talk about board policy because the topic wasn’t on the agenda and it would be a violation of the Open Meeting Law.

It’s a little frustrating to not be able to present something to the board that’s part of a vote on a contract, Brooks said.

Arrascada also raised concerns about certain provisions, including that if Whitfield was terminated without cause, he would receive only a six-month buyout. He said he doesn’t know why someone would agree to that contract.

Arrascada said he wants nothing but the best for Whitfield and it’s insulting to state he could be terminated without cause.

Whitfield is one of the best presidents that has been at UNLV, and NSHE needs to do whatever it needs to retain him, Arrascada said.

Public comments

During a public comment period Thursday, a few people expressed support for Whitfield.

Doug Unger, president of the UNLV chapter of the Nevada Faculty Alliance, expressed “strong appreciation and support” for Whitfield’s leadership.

Serving as president of UNLV is a complex responsibility that requires a vision for the university even while also reacting swiftly to institutional issues and crises, he said.

Whitfield has managed the challenges of his presidency as well as any leader could and started on the job during the COVID-19 pandemic, Unger said, as well as stewarded the university through a demanding budget situation.

Unger said he also appreciates Whitfield’s compassion and support for the campus community following an early December shooting on campus where three faculty members were killed and a fourth was seriously injured.

Ross Bryant, director of UNLV’s Military & Veteran Services Center,said that Whitfield — whose father served in the U.S. Air Force — came to visit during his second day as president and they spent 90 minutes talking.  

Whitfield also attends many veteran events, Bryant said.

A graduate student leader said Whitfield is approachable and has a welcoming presence on campus, and that his deep and genuine care for students and the campus community is evident.

UNLV Faculty Senate Chair Bill Robinson, who was a member of Whitfield’s evaluation committee, said the Faculty Senate took a vote and 30 were in favor of renewing the president’s contract and two were opposed.

He told regents to not forget there are recommendations included in the report for Whitfield.

He encouraged regents to take the opportunity to have a “frank and open exchange of views” so the president can have more success in the next four years than he had in the first four.

Evaluation process

The evaluation process began this fall for Whitfield and Acharya. It included steps such as a self evaluation; interviews with school employees, Nevada System of Higher Education officials and community members; and an open forum and faculty survey to get input.

In a recommendation memo from NSHE Interim Chancellor Patricia Charlton to regents — which is included with meeting materials — she wrote that Whitfield has faced “several challenges including the COVID pandemic” during his first years as president.

She also wrote that “UNLV continues to enjoy a strong reputation nationally of academic programs.”

One significant accomplishment for UNLV has been the ongoing development of the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine, including the opening of the medical education building in 2022 during Whitfield’s tenure, according to the memo.

Charlton also wrote that Whitfield, along with his leadership team and university employees, are committed to student success.

Student enrollment and graduation rates have also grown, she wrote.

The memo includes recommendations for Whitfield, including to create a strong presence in community engagement, increase advocacy in federal and state politics and policy, champion a commitment to high quality internal performance, increase engagement with faculty and grow communication.

For Acharya, Charlton wrote in a memo to regents that he has faced several challenges as president, including the pandemic and financial issues.

Under his leadership, there have been accomplishments such as growth in research and philanthropic funding, expansion of the DRI Research Park, enhancement of administrative and operational efficiencies, increase in collaborations and expansion of community engagement, Charlton wrote.

“President Acharya’s work in building DRI, his dedication to meeting the needs of research faculty, and his institutional leadership are commendable,” according to the memo. “His support and dedication to faculty are evidenced in his fostering opportunities to reinvest in the organization and support of faculty innovation.”

The memo includes recommendations for Acharya, including to continue with communication coaching to “further develop his presence and influence in the unique role he has within NSHE.”

Others are to create a strategic plan “to invest in targeted interests and segments of our community,” continue to be innovative and a visionary, and explore opportunities to collaborate with other NSHE schools.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com. Follow @julieswootton on X.

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