Acting president to get shot as UNLV’s permanent leader

Updated February 15, 2019 - 7:27 pm

The Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents voted Friday to begin a national search for the next UNLV president and waived a code provision to give the acting president a shot at the job.

Board Chair Kevin Page, Vice-Chair Jason Geddes and Chancellor Thom Reilly visited UNLV in November and spoke to faculty and staff about the future of leadership at UNLV. Reilly said at Friday’s special meeting that the general consensus was that a national search should be held, but Dr. Marta Meana should have a chance to apply.

Meana began serving as acting president in July 2018 after Len Jessup left the university.

Jessup’s sudden departure came after months of battling the board and its leaders, who he said interfered with his performance as president.

The rift damaged the school’s ties with community leaders and donors, including the Engelstad Foundation, which pulled a $14 million gift to UNLV’s new medical school after Jessup announced he was leaving to serve as president of Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California.

“(Meana) is a smart, caring, sensitive leader,” Faculty Senate Chair Douglas Unger told regents Friday. “In a fast-moving six months, she is already healing our university’s relationships internally and with the community.”

Unger called Meana’s performance as a researcher, teacher and president “stellar.”

In public comment, representatives from UNLV’s student government and Alumni Association voiced their support for both Meana and a national search.

The board voted unanimously to open the search, and with only one dissenting vote to allow Meana to apply. Regent John Moran said he voted against the waived provision only because he didn’t approve of the policy change.

“She has proven, in her time here, through all these other groups she worked with, that she should have this opportunity to apply,” Regent Trevor Hayes said.

Hayes argued that not approving the provision waiver would show other faculty and staff that they could not have the opportunity to work their way up to leadership positions.

“I think the message this would send to all of our campuses by not allowing her to would be negative,” he said.

The provision, which prevents acting presidents from being considered, will only be waived for the current presidential search.

“I think I will probably throw my hat in the ring,” Meana said after the meeting. “I love this place, and I took the position because I wanted to help.”

Meana has been with the university for 22 years, working first as a psychology professor and a senior adviser to former UNLV president Neal Smatresk before she became dean of the Honors College.

“I’m honored that the board has given me this opportunity,” she said, “and I’m honored that the campus came forward to support me. It’s hard not to be flattered.”

The next step for the board is finding a search firm to identify candidates.

“We want someone who actually understands who the movers and the shakers are,” Reilly said.

He said that ideally a search firm would present the board with 10 to 12 candidates, then the board could select three to five as finalists.

“Dr. Meana received wide support, and this change will allow her to compete with the best and brightest,” he said.

Contact Max Michor at mmichor@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0365. Follow @MaxMichor on Twitter.

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