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EDITORIAL: Regents throw money at Kunzer-Murphy

Higher education systems frequently are criticized for their disconnection from the private sector. Last week, the Board of Regents validated that criticism by voting to spend money UNLV doesn’t have on a lavish new contract that Director of Athletics Tina Kunzer-Murphy didn’t need.

Hand-wringing over athletic administration and coaching salaries is perfectly justified at schools where sports budgets are in the red and programs aren’t self-sustaining — schools such as UNLV. Earlier this year, the regents announced their intention to play a greater role in determining those salaries. Kevin Page, current chairman of the Board of Regents, said at the time, “We’re trying to rein that in.”

Regents have a funny way of showing it. On Friday, they voted unanimously to give Ms. Kunzer-Murphy a new three-year deal, effective Jan. 1, that boosts her annual salary from $180,000 to $240,000, plus various incentives and perks. Cha-ching!

Ms. Kunzer-Murphy, a lifelong Las Vegan and former executive director of the Las Vegas Bowl, was appointed interim athletic director this summer at an effective annual salary of $170,000 to replace the retiring Jim Livengood, who was paid $350,000 per year. After a national search for a permanent athletic director produced a field of candidates that didn’t measure up, UNLV President Neal Smatresk negotiated an extension of Ms. Kunzer-Murphy’s interim pact through 2014 at an annual salary of $180,000. Considering part of Ms. Kunzer-Murphy’s job entailed cutting costs and salaries within the money-losing department, a sane salary and short contract term made sense. It gave Ms. Kunzer-Murphy incentive to perform — incentive beyond her love of this valley — and it left the university with less liability if the arrangement didn’t work out. It bought time. Regents approved the deal Oct. 18.

That contract lasted all of two months. Mr. Smatresk quickly decided to remove the “interim” tag from Ms. Kunzer-Murphy’s title and boost her pay again, to $240,000. And for some regents, that wasn’t remotely close to good enough. Citing equity concerns — Ms. Kunzer-Murphy is the school’s first female athletic director — and the fact that UNR Director of Athletics Doug Knuth receives a base annual salary of $285,000, Regent Cedric Crear made a motion to further boost her pay to that figure — a $105,000-per-year raise. Mercifully, that motion failed on a 7-6 vote. The smaller pay raise was approved.

If the regents who backed the higher figure want to engage in reckless deficit spending for no good reason, we suggest they run for Congress next year.

This is not to suggest Ms. Kunzer-Murphy is the wrong person for the job. This newspaper supported the extension of her interim contract. It was a fair deal, and she agreed to it. But the new pact, like so many other contract decisions by elected bodies across Southern Nevada, sends a message that happy days are here again. Raises for all! What new normal?

We’re not out of the woods — not by a long shot. Increasingly, our elected leaders don’t get that. Voters should remember as much in November.

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