Nevada schools have another shakeup with Jessup departure

Updated April 4, 2018 - 1:19 pm

After the May commencement ceremonies end, and summer break comes and goes, UNLV students will likely return to campus in the fall without a president — temporary, or permanent.

There will at least be an officer-in-charge, said Thom Reilly, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, and possibly a chief operating officer in place by August, but he doesn’t want to rush the search for Len Jessup’s replacement.

“I wouldn’t want to make a decision in the summer,” Reilly said. “I don’t want to have meetings without students there.”

But no matter who steps into the role, or other vacant educational posts across the state, student success, big ideas and a broader vision are needed to move forward, education officials and community members say.

Vacant leadership posts

With Jessup’s announcement, UNLV will join two other institutions in NSHE — the College of Southern Nevada and Western Nevada College — that are without permanent leaders.

The news also comes at a time when CCSD is working to replace retiring Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky, who has battled with members of the district’s governing body. Trustees expect to name a new superintendent this month after a nationwide search.

The number of new faces at all levels of education in Nevada is one potential problem to add to a host of other woes in a state that lags behind a majority of the country in educational rankings.

“I have valued the leadership provided by both Pat Skorkowsky and Len Jessup in leading the Clark County School District and UNLV, respectively,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said in a statement. “Pat and Len have been strong partners in moving public education in Southern Nevada forward and I am confident that their successors will continue to build on the framework that is in place.”

Bridging the gap between K-12 and higher education can prove challenging, and fixing the issues can take a strong partnership at the leadership level, according to Emily Richmond, the public editor at Education Writers Association.

“Given that the vast majority of freshman attending state schools come from Clark County, it’s doubly important that those expectations match,” she said. “One of the best ways to do that is to have administrative leadership on the same page.”

For example, Richmond pointed out Nevada high school graduates often face remedial courses at higher education institutes, calling into question how rigorous the K-12 program is and whether it prepares students for college.

Statewide, 53 percent of 2015 high school graduates who enrolled in any of the seven degree-granting state institutions ended up in such courses, according to most recent NSHE data. For Clark, it’s 55.7 percent.

That can mean students take longer to graduate, which reflects poorly on the higher education institution and can increase the cost of getting a degree.

Partnerships often come in fits and starts, said Richmond, who covered education in Nevada from 2002 to 2010. She said leaders need not only big ideas but the wherewithal to bring the ideas to fruition. That could be possible even with a few new leaders, she said.

“I don’t know it would be a problem if everybody is on a fresh page, but it is certainly difficult when they can’t turn to each other for institutional knowledge,” she said.

‘Plenty of interest’

Reilly is optimistic about finding a replacement for Jessup, 56, who clashed with Reilly and the state Board of Regents.

But that was not the case with the former presidents of CSN and WNC. Chet Burton left Western Nevada College after becoming chief financial officer at NSHE, and Michael Richards left after about 10 years as president of CSN.

“If you look at all of the institutions, there’s been a great deal of stability,” Reilly said, adding that NSHE has received more than 100 applicants to replace Burton. “I think given what a great institution UNLV is, we’ll have plenty of interest from individuals who want to lead it.”

Some members of the business community, however, aren’t as confident that presidential recruitment will go smoothly for UNLV.

“The world of higher education is a pretty small world,” said Michael Brown, president of Barrick USA. “I’ve always been taught that when you apply for a job, you try to find out what happened to the person before you. It’s going to be challenging for the recruitment for sure.”

Tom Kaplan, senior managing partner for Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, shared similar sentiments.

“Who are they going to find? Why would a good educator want to come to this university?” he said. “Until this system is changed, there’s no reason for a credible, intelligent, educational leader to come.”

Brown said in order for the state to diversify its economy, it needs a vibrant university.

“We’re going to need a president with a vision and the mandate to implement that vision,” he said.

Next steps

Gaining input from faculty and staff on the search process is one of Reilly’s first steps in the wake of Tuesday’s announcement that Jessup is leaving UNLV with about two years remaining on his five-year contract.

From here, the Board of Regents can either appoint an interim or an acting president. Though the terms sound similar, their meanings differ substantially. A candidate for an “interim” job would be granted a trial run, and could end up staying in the post permanently. An “acting” president, however, would be appointed to the position temporarily, and NSHE would then undertake a national search for president — a process that is currently playing out at CSN.

Margo Martin was appointed as acting president of CSN last year after Reilly received input from students and staff. Reilly said faculty and students “overwhelmingly supported” a national search, which is being led by an outside search firm, Wheless Partners.

“I envision the same process,” Reilly said Wednesday, adding that he makes the recommendation based on feedback and brings it to the Board of Regents for a vote.

Reilly could begin those same conversations with the UNLV campus community in the next few weeks, but said that is unlikely.

Before Reilly even gets to that point, however, Regent John Moran wants a law firm with no connection to NSHE, to conduct an independent review of the facts and circumstances associated with Jessup’s departure. He said he made a formal request to Reilly, board Chairman Kevin Page, and the system’s legal counsel.

“I am committed to fighting for both transparency and good governance as we move forward,” Moran said. “I trust my colleagues will follow.”

In the meantime, an officer-in-charge will be selected to lead the university until an interim or acting president is chosen. Reilly said it will be one of the following members of Jessup’s cabinet: Diane Chase, executive vice president and provost; Juanita Fain, vice president for student affairs; Nancy Rapoport, special counsel to the president; or Jean Vock, vice president for finance and business.

He said Chase has been officer-in-charge when Jessup has gone on vacation.

“There always has to be someone in charge,” Reilly said. “There’s a clear succession plan.”

Reilly also wants to move forward on hiring a chief operating officer for the university — a position he announced two weeks ago citing “operational deficiencies” at UNLV.

“We will need a COO position,” Reilly said. “How it will be structured, remains.”

Reilly said he’s working in consultation with Jessup’s cabinet.

“It could be anywhere from temporary, to more long-term, to contract, to internally, externally,” he said. “All that stuff is on the table for us to discuss.”

Contact Natalie Bruzda at or 702-477-3897. Follow @NatalieBruzda on Twitter. Contact Meghin Delaney at 702-383-0281 or Follow @MeghinDelaney on Twitter.

News Videos
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto promotes the Rebuild America’s Schools Act
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., co-sponsor of the Rebuild America’s Schools Act, speaks at Hoggard Elementary School in Las Vegas to promote the bill that would provide $100 billion for infrastructure improvements at schools across the country. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
CCSD Superintendent address alleged racially motivated threats at Arbor View
CCSD Superintendent Dr. Jesus F. Jara gives update on alleged racially motivated threats against Arbor View High School, and says such threats will not be tolerated. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Super Bloom Near Lake Elsinore, California
Crowds packed the hills near Lake Elsinore on Saturday to capture a rare selfie amidst the super bloom of poppies turning the landscape purple. The super bloom was caused by the larger rainfall this year. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Fiery accident in Las Vegas
A three-car accident on Spring Mountain Road around 6:30 pm on Monday night
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Stardust implosion anniversary
Twelve years ago today, the Stardust Resort and Casino was imploded. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Lawsuits filed against security contractors at Nevada National Security Site
Two lawsuits were filed today against the current and former government security contractors for the Nevada National Security Site, one on behalf of Jennifer Glover who alleges sexual discrimination and assault and the other on behalf of Gus Redding who alleges retaliation after he gave statements supporting Glover’s claims. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New housing option helps Las Vegas moms keep kids while kicking drugs
WestCare Nevada Women and Children’s Campus in Las Vegas has added a new transitional housing wing for women who have completed the inpatient treatment at the behavioral health nonprofit to help them as they go through outpatient treatment, shore up their finances and prepare to secure long-term housing. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Teenager in critical condition after being struck by an SUV in Henderson
Authorities were called about 2:45 p.m. to the scene in the 2100 block of Olympic Avenue, near Green Valley Parkway and Sunset Road. The teenager was taken to University Medical Center in critical condition. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Water Question Part 3: Conservation loves a crisis
Future growth in the Las Vegas Valley will rest almost entirely on the community’s ability to conserve its finite share of the Colorado River.
The Water Question Part 7: How much can we grow?
Many experts agree that Southern Nevada can continue to grow, so long as residents are willing to do what needs to be done to stretch our crucial resource as far as it will go.
The Water Question Part 6: How many people can Southern Nevada’s water sustain?
The number can swing wildly depending on a host of variables, including the community’s rates of growth, conservation efforts and the severity of drought on the Colorado River.
Mylar Balloon Demo
NV Energy presented a demonstration Wednesday to depict the damage that can be caused by the release of Mylar balloons.
Educators dressed in red have taken to the streets to demand more for their students.
Educators dressed in red have taken to the streets to demand more for their students. Educators from around the State are bringing the Red for Ed movement to the steps of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City, NV, and to the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Nature Conservancy Ranch
The Nature Conservancy just bought the 900-acre 7J Ranch at the headwaters of the Amargosa River, north of Beatty. The property could become a research station, though ranching will continue.
Swift water rescue at Durango Wash in Las Vegas
On Thursday, February 14, 2019, at approximately 8:42 a.m., the Clark County Fire Department responded to a report of a swift water incident where people were trapped in the Durango wash which is located near 8771 Halcon Ave. Personnel found one person who was trapped in the flood channel. The individual was transported to the hospital in stable condition. Video by Clark County Fire & Rescue.
Flooding at E Cheyenne in N. Las Vegas Blvd.
Quick Weather Around the Strip
Rain hits Las Vegas, but that doesn't stop people from heading out to the Strip. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries. The Cleveland Clinic will begin researching the brains of retired bull riders to understand the impact traumatic brain injuries have on cognition. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Matt Stutzman shoots arrows with his feet
Matt Stutzman who was born without arms shoots arrows with his feet and hits the bullseye with remarkable accuracy. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Secretary of Air Force Emphasizes the Importance of Nellis AFB
US Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson visited Nellis Air Force Base during Red Flag training and described how important the base is to the military.
Former Northwest Academy student speaks out
Tanner Reynolds, 13, with his mother Angela McDonald, speaks out on his experience as a former student of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff member Caleb Michael Hill. Hill, 29, was arrested Jan. 29 by the Nye County Sheriff’s Office on suspicion of child abuse.
Former Northwest Academy students speak out
Tristan Groom, 15, and his brother Jade Gaastra, 23, speak out on their experiences as former students of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff and excessive medication.
Disruption At Metro PD OIS Presser
A man claiming to be part of the press refused to leave a press conference at Metro police headquarters, Wednesday January 30, 2019. Officers were forced to physically remove the man. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience after the city began operating around the clock. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Las Vegas parts ways with operator of homeless courtyard
Jocelyn Bluitt-Fisher discusses the transition between operators of the homeless courtyard in Las Vegas, Thursday Jan. 24, 2019.(Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police and Raiders partner with SafeNest
Las Vegas police and the Raiders partner with SafeNest on Project Safe 417 (the police code for domestic violence is 417). The program partners trained SafeNest volunteer advocates with Metropolitan Police Department officers dispatched to domestic violence calls, allowing advocates to provide immediate crisis advocacy to victims at the scene of those calls. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
North Las Vegas police chief discusses officer-involved shooting
North Las Vegas police chief Pamela Ojeda held a press conference Thursday, Jan. 24, regarding an officer-involved shooting that took place on Jan. 21. The incident resulted in the killing of suspect Horacio Ruiz-Rodriguez. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Volunteers gather for annual Clark County homeless count
Volunteers gather for the annual Southern Nevada Homeless Census, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Who can understand hospital price lists?
Lists of costs for procedures, drugs and devices are now posted the websites of hospitals to comply with a new federal rule designed to provide additional consumer transparency. Good luck figuring out what they mean.
Home Front Page Footer Listing