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Regents strip ‘interim’ label from UNLV president’s title

The state higher education system’s Board of Regents named Neal Smatresk the president of UNLV on Thursday.

He had already been the interim president for a year and a half, and his job performance has been almost universally praised. The move was not unexpected.

“There is virtual unanimity in the UNLV community about what an excellent job Neal Smatresk is doing,” said Chancellor Dan Klaich. “This is a man who’s given UNLV it’s voice back.”

Smatresk replaced David Ashley as president after the board removed Ashley among criticism that he was out of touch with the campus and its interest groups.

When Klaich recommended that Smatresk be named president at Thursday’s board meeting, there was applause in the room.

“I will work with you to do everything we need to do to make UNLV better,” he promised.

Regents appointed Smatresk to the interim position in 2009 under a two-year contract with an option for a third year. The thinking at the time was that the two-year appointment would give UNLV stability through the next Legislative session. But Klaich said people are concerned that the university’s future is uncertain because there is no so-called “permanent” president in place.

In reality, there is no such thing as a permanent president, as Gregory Brown, president of the UNLV chapter of the Nevada Faculty Alliance, has pointed out. But having a president without the interim title in place before the Legislative session — which is expected to be rife with budget cuts across state government — could make UNLV’s position stronger, the thinking now goes.

David Rapoport, president of the student body, said the university needed Smatresk in place before the 2011 legislative session. He said students were generally supportive of the president, and that Smatresk was always available to talk.

“In President Smatresk, we have a leader we can believe in,” he said. “We strongly support the chancellor’s recommendation.”

Smatresk also had the support of graduate students, faculty, alumni and the university’s financial supporters.

“He has the desire, the will and the capability to lead the university in difficult times ahead,” said Mark Fine, chairman of the UNLV foundation, in endorsing Smatresk’s appointment.

He said Smatresk’s fundraising skills were “terrific.”

Matt Engle, president of the UNLV Alumni Association, said the group supported naming Smatresk president.

“There was not a single negative comment said about Dr. Smatresk,” he said of association meetings about the president. “I just can’t think of a better person for the position right now.”

Klaich also said that he was afraid that if the Board did not name Smatresk to the job, he would be recruited away.

“Don’t let this guy out the door,” said Regent Mark Alden.

“He’s a rock star,” said Regent Kevin Page.

Regent Cedric Crear, the only black member of the 13-member board, made the only negative comment. He said he liked Smatresk, so “this is hard for me.” He criticized the higher ed system’s efforts in recent years to recruit diverse employees.

Even acknowledging “there’s no doubt Neal’s the right guy for this position,” he said the system should conduct a search for a new president.

The Board did not agree. Instead, it voted to bypass an internal rule that requires a search when seeking a president. Crear voted down the rule bypass, but he joined a unanimous Board in granting Smatresk the new contract.

Smatresk will be paid an annual salary of $246,426.84. He’ll also be paid a supplement of $119,997.16 annually, about 60 percent of that from the foundation and the rest from the higher education system. He will, however, defer $50,000 of that annually and will collect it only if he fulfills his contract. The contract goes through June 30, 2014. In addition, he’ll get annual allowances of $8,000 for a car, $18,000 for a house and a $5,000 hosting account.

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