UNLV professors and staff express ideas about hiring new president

How do you get more than 100 college professors to crowd themselves into a windowless ballroom smack dab in the middle of July?

Ask them who they want their new boss to be.

That’s what happened today at UNLV, where the higher education chancellor and the chairman of the system’s governing board talked to professors and staff at the university about choosing a new president.

The previous president, David Ashley, was removed from his position last week amid criticism that he wasn’t a good communicator and lacked the proper management skills to do the job effectively.

It is Chancellor Dan Klaich’s job to come up with a recommendation to the Board of Regents for an interim president.

The full board then would have to approve the selection.

Klaich and Board Chairman James Dean Leavitt have said they plan to name an interim president and then launch a search for a permanent replacement for Ashley.

But that’s a plan only, and the two indicated Tuesday they could adjust it. For example, a consensus could emerge that it would be best to simply hire a permanent president sooner, rather than after a yearlong search.

“I think this is an absolutely critical time for UNLV,” Klaich said.

Klaich said he doesn’t want someone in charge who’s going to “tread water,” or be a “chair warmer.”

“The university doesn’t deserve that,” he said.

Some at Tuesday’s meeting said they would like to see someone who is already familiar with the university take over, preferably not on temporary basis.

Professor Robert Woods from the hotel management department pushed for current Provost Neal Smatresk to take over, as did several others.

Smatresk, normally the university’s No. 2 official, is serving as acting president in the wake of Ashley’s removal.

“We need someone who’s up to speed now,” Woods said. “Someone who can make hard decisions now.”

UNLV, like other colleges and universities in the state, is undergoing tough budget cuts. More are expected in the next couple of years.

In addition, there has been lots of what was generally referred to over and over again Tuesday as “bad press” for the university in relation to the Ashley situation.

Several people said it might be best to hire somebody for a couple of years and wait until things calm down before launching a national search for a new leader.

A couple of people pushed for Carol Harter, the president of the university before Ashley took over in 2006, to be hired on an interim basis. Some mentioned Richard Morgan, the former dean of the law school.

Other names have been floated publicly and privately by regents and other insiders, but none came up as often Tuesday as Smatresk’s.

Klaich and Leavitt said the rumored folks aren’t necessarily ahead of anyone else when it comes to who might get a shot at the job.

“Don’t believe everything you hear,” Klaich told the crowd.

There was a general consensus that whoever takes over should value the university’s efforts to expand research, and that the new person be a good communicator, someone who is able to establish solid relationships with alumni, the higher ed system, students, faculty and employees.

Klaich and Leavitt will meet with other groups throughout this week. They said they hope to have an interim president named within a few weeks.

The search for a permanent president, if it comes to that, could take until next spring.


Contact reporter Richard Lake at or 702-383-0307.

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