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UNLV president search plan will remain despite Sandoval rumors

Anyone who thinks they have the credentials to lead Nevada’s largest university must apply for the job and be vetted.

Even if you’re the governor.

Speculation has swirled about what Gov. Brian Sandoval will do after his final term in office ends in January, with some saying he would make a good candidate to permanently lead UNLV.

One such inquiry was made to Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Thom Reilly on Wednesday during a meeting of the Southern Nevada Forum.

“I’m sure when we start recruitment, we’ll see if his name pops up,” Reilly said with a shrug and a slight chuckle.

Reilly told the Review-Journal that while he doesn’t know if Sandoval is interested in the position, he would be a “very attractive candidate,” for one of the top — and highest paid — education jobs in the state. As governor, Sandoval earns a salary of nearly $150,000 a year, but could make more than $500,000 as president of UNLV.

In a statement, Sandoval acknowledged the speculation, and noted UNLV is a world-class institution with a “vibrant” student body and “award-winning” faculty, but did not say whether or not he was interested.

“The idea that I have been mentioned as a potential candidate to lead the university is humbling and I appreciate the confidence placed in my abilities,” he said in the statement.

‘Tremendous value add’

Although the process to find a permanent leader has not begun, Regent J.T. Moran said that Sandoval would be an “overqualified asset” and a “tremendous value add” to NSHE.

Reilly, and regents, said that they are sticking with the initial plan to meet with university constituents in October or November to take a pulse of the campus.

“There’s not as much of a rush now because we have an acting president in there,” said Board Chairman Kevin Page. “It’s not even on our radar. As people get back on campus, we’ll start thinking about it.”

One possibility Regent Rick Trachok has suggested is to change Dr. Marta Meana’s title from “acting” to “interim” president, and to give her at least a two-year contract in order to bring stability to the university. Meana has said she’s not interested in the role permanently.

“She understands the many issues there and she’s addressing them, and I think that’s just a huge positive for UNLV,” Trachok said.

“She’s reached out to me, which is something that hadn’t been done in the past,” he said. “I was very encouraged by both her questions and the things that she’s addressing.”

Considering such a decision, however, hinges on the campus feedback, Regent Jason Geddes said,

Similar methods

The timeline to fill the UNLV role appears to mirror the practices in filling previous vacancies at the top of Nevada colleges.

Former College of Southern Nevada President Michael Richards announced his retirement in August 2017, and the search to find his replacement began five months later. Incoming President Federico Zaragoza will begin his job this week.

Former UNLV President Len Jessup announced his departure in April, and the search for his replacement is slated to begin this fall. Reilly has said the search could take a year.

The board will also likely use a search firm to find Jessup’s replacement, another common practice by NSHE schools, and others across the country.

Judith Wilde, chief operating officer of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, has studied the use of search firms in hiring university presidents and provosts, and has found that the trend to use search firms has expanded in the past 50 years.

In 1975-76, only 2 percent of public university presidential searches were done using a search firm, Wilde said. It rose to 92 percent in 2015-16.

“Higher education has had phenomenal presidents around the country for a century or more,” said James Finkelstein, professor emeritus at George Mason University, who has also studied the topic. “Search firms were not involved in the vast, vast, vast majority of them, up until recently.”

Reilly said his experience with search firms — one to find Richards’ replacement, and another to find a new president at Western Nevada College — has been “very positive.”

“Our outcomes speak for themselves,” he said. “We have two excellent candidates that just joined us.”

He said the consultants completed active searches, meaning that they actively sought out candidates, rather than waiting for applicants to respond to a job posting. They also considered the feedback from the search committees and the advisory boards to zero in on the best candidates, Reilly said.

“I think any time you select a president for any institution, it’s a critical position,” he said. “That process should involve all the stakeholders. I think that’s what we’ve done in the past, and when we begin our search for UNLV, I believe we’ll follow the same model.”

Contact Natalie Bruzda at nbruzda@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3897. Follow @NatalieBruzda on Twitter.

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