Nevada regents concerned about chancellor’s work to kill critical research

Members of the Nevada Board of Regents say they’re concerned about the leadership of Chancellor Dan Klaich and want more information about reports that Klaich quashed research critical of his administration.

At least one regent says he is losing confidence in Klaich, and it may be time for a change.

“I’ve heard from several faculty members and most of them have expressed a lack of confidence in the chancellor and his ability to administer. That concerns me greatly,” Regent Mark Doubrava said Tuesday. “I myself am losing confidence with the chancellor.”

Nevada college and university faculty and state legislators also have expressed alarm about the incident, but any action must come from the Board of Regents.

The elected 13-member Board of Regents oversees the state’s eight higher education institutions. The regents are elected by district and elect a chairman and a vice chairman.

Klaich, an attorney, has had a hand in running the state higher education system for 25 years, first as a regent from 1983 to 1997, with two terms as chairman of the board. In 2004 he went to work for the board, serving as executive vice chancellor, vice chancellor for legal affairs and administration and chief counsel before his appointment as chancellor — the system’s CEO — in 2009.

PROTECTING THE SYSTEM

On Sunday, the Review-Journal reported that Klaich commissioned an out-of-state consultant to review the College of Southern Nevada and recommend a way for his office to continue governing the state’s four community colleges. But email between Klaich, the consultants and other state higher education officials show the chancellor didn’t like the consultant’s criticism of his operation and demanded the report be rewritten.

Ultimately, it was never shown to the state lawmakers, as Klaich said was his intent in commissioning the work. Copies of the email were obtained by the newspaper through the state’s public records law.

Klaich on Monday sent regents a memo denying the report was quashed. He said it was used to guide his office’s thinking on the issue.

Board of Regents Chairman Rick Trachok on Monday agreed with Klaich because many of the points in the report were discussed over the past year. Still, Trachok said he has asked to review all relevant documents and is digging into the matter.

But Regent Allison Stephens said the way the report is being portrayed — that most suggestions were adopted — misses key context that there was a real threat during the time the report remained under wraps.

Stephens served on the interim legislative committee that was to receive the report. The committee was considering pulling the community colleges out from under the regents’ purview.

Stephens said she felt the committee came to the right conclusion, but that doesn’t mean the allegations aren’t troubling and need to be addressed.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to just jump to the chancellor’s defense,” Stephens said. “It’s unfortunate because in the end he was trying to protect the very system he’s now undermined, if those allegations turn out to be true.”

Stephens said she wants more information and said the issue should be aired at a public meeting. The regents are elected by the public, and it’s important to do everything in public, she said.

Regent Trevor Hayes said the board needs to revise policies regarding commissioned research.

“The public pays for this research and it should be readily available to them,” he said in an email. “The Board should have the chancellor and his staff address the handling of the NCHEMS (National Center for Higher Education Management Systems) report at our next board meeting (in September).”

Board of Regents Vice Chairman Michael Wixom cautioned that “any rush to judgment is a profound mistake, and a great disservice to all who have a stake in the underlying matter. Therefore, I intend to do my best to proceed in a deliberate, careful and thoughtful manner.”

Regent Jason Geddes said he wants to work with the full board to look into the situation. Regent Sam Lieberman said, “The issues should be addressed, and the board should be more informed and engaged in the issues that they have to make a decision on.”

Regents James Dean Leavitt, Andrea Anderson, Cedric Crear, Robert Davidson, Kevin Melcher and Kevin Page either offered no comment or did not respond to the Review-Journal’s request for comment.

BROADER CONCERNS

Doubrava said his feeling that regents need to take a hard look at Klaich’s leader­ship doesn’t spring from the chancellor’s handling of one report.

Doubrava, a regent for five years, recalls other instances where recommendations by paid consultants were edited or entirely thrown out. He said he is particularly troubled because the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, the Colorado-based think-tank at the center of the controversy, helped overhaul the state’s complicated higher education funding formula

“What type of influence was applied during the funding formula?” Doubrava asked. “It’s almost like there is a serious issue of bringing in consultants to have the appearance of getting outside information, have a dog-and-pony show and the chancellor knows the facts ahead of time anyway, so that’s what’s applied.”

He said he’d welcome an audit to examine how many consultants the system is using, what they are paid and who sees the draft reports.

The national center’s work on the funding formula in 2012 was also controversial.

The Legislature selected SRI International, a prestigious nonprofit consulting firm spun off by Stanford University, to recommend an overhaul of the complicated formula.

Klaich also hired the national center, which had competed for the Legislature’s contract, to do the same work. He expressed concern SRI would need to play a lot of catch-up while the national center has a history with his agency and could give the Legislature additional information. The move drew the ire of legislators, who said he had abused the process and created a mess because the two research groups came to different conclusions.

Klaich also caught heat for issuing what became know as a “gag order” to college and university presidents. The implication: Criticize the outcome and be fired.

In a March interview he said it was important for higher education to present a united front to the Legislature. No one was shortchanged in what had been a three-year debate, he said.

“You have the right to discussion and we encourage discussion, we encourage divergent views, but when a decision is made you support the decision,” Klaich said. “I stand by what I did.”

OUT OF CHARACTER?

On Monday, the Nevada Faculty Alliance, a statewide group, called the controversy just one troubling aspect of an organization resistant to healthy criticism and change.

But John Filler, an education professor who chairs the UNLV Faculty Senate, defended Klaich.

“I have worked with Klaich on faculty issues for many years and have found him always to be an honest, straight­forward leader not at all afraid to confront any issue head on,” Filler said in an email.

Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, was also quick to say the email messages didn’t reflect his opinion of Klaich, who he finds charming and likes personally.

“The impression I get when reading through those emails is quite a different Dan Klaich,” Hansen said Tuesday. “I think the real side of him comes out when there isn’t going to be public scrutiny or a need for a legislator to vote for your bills.”

Contact Bethany Barnes at bbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Find her on Twitter: @betsbarnes

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