The state’s higher education system spent enough money this past spring searching for new presidents at three colleges and universities to pay the full tuition for a dozen students at those schools for their entire degree programs.
Searches at the University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada State College and Great Basin College cost $272,090.97, according to records obtained by the Review-Journal.
In the end, two of the presidents hired were already on the job, serving as interim presidents. The only new hire that $272,000 found was a community college president.
"The state spent a lot of money for search firms," said Regent Mark Doubrava, who was on the Nevada State College search committee. "When you think of it, $272,000 for a community college president in Elko, that’s not money well spent."
Jason Geddes, chairman of the system’s governing Board of Regents, said the board soon will be looking to rewrite the policy dictating how college and university presidents are hired.
"The cost is part of it," Geddes said.
He expects regents to look at options in September and perhaps vote on them in December.
Current policy dictates that the board conduct a national search whenever an institution has an opening at the top. It has been suspended occasionally, such as when Neal Smatresk moved from provost to interim president to president at UNLV.
But the policy was followed this year, when three institutions had presidential openings at the same time.
At Nevada State, the search for a new president cost a little more than $100,000. After rounds of committee meetings and job interviews, the man hired for the job was Bart Patterson, who already had been the interim president for six months.
Similarly at UNR, Marc Johnson had taken over as interim president last year after then-President Milton Glick died in office. Despite a search that cost more than $120,000, Johnson was named the president.
The exception was at Great Basin College, where regents named a community college vice president from Michigan, Mark Curtis, the community college’s new president after a search costing just shy of $50,000.
Mark Alden, chairman of the Nevada State search committee, cited problems with the presidential hiring process. He said interim presidents should not be allowed to apply for the job. It gives them a seemingly unfair advantage, he said, and could scare away otherwise good candidates.
This is especially true in Nevada, he said, which has been earning a reputation for hiring from within.
In addition to Smatresk at UNLV and the two recently interim-turned-permanent presidents, the College of Southern Nevada’s president, Michael Richards, previously had served as its interim president.
Alden said the perception is that "the fix is in whenever the interim is a candidate."
"Searches are expensive, and if there’s an internal candidate, it can limit the pool," he said.
He and Geddes said one option being considered is letting an interim president serve for two years. At the end of that period, the board could decide whether to appoint the person to the presidency or conduct a search without that person as a candidate.
"We want to look at promoting from within," Geddes said.
He said the new policy would mean the board would have to write a policy for selecting the No. 2 officer at colleges and universities, the provost, sometimes called the vice president for academic affairs.
Currently, there is no overriding policy for provost selection despite the fact that it is most often the provost who ends up at least temporarily filling in at the top when a president leaves.
Over the past decade or so, as presidential duties have expanded to focus more on community outreach and fundraising, provosts often have taken on a more important role than simply an institution’s chief academic officer.
Doubrava said he thinks conducting three searches at the same time was a mistake. He said it spread board members, and especially the staff, too thin.
He said allowing an interim president to serve for a longer period of time makes sense. There might not be any need for an expensive search.
Even so, he favors not allowing an interim to apply for the permanent job once a search has been launched.
Regent Cedric Crear said he agrees that changes need to be made. He also would like to see interim presidents excluded when national searches are done.
"I think it’s a huge factor in terms of the quality of candidates we’re able to get," he said.
He said the cost of a national search does not concern him because the searches are often necessary if a diverse candidate pool is the goal. Exclusively hiring from within can lead to a lack of diversity at the top, Crear said.
He said he would keep trying to keep diversity in the forefront as the board discusses its options for changing policy.
Geddes said the staff would look at examples in other states before bringing final recommendations to the board in September.PRESIDENTIAL SEARCH COSTS
University of Nevada, Reno
Search firm: $90,000
Nevada State College
Search firm: $75,000
Great Basin College
Search firm: $44,000
Total for all three: $272,090.97
* Other includes travel and related expenses source: Nevada System of Higher Education contracts with search firms and billing records