Nevada’s higher education system has been unusually preoccupied with presidential searches. In the past couple of weeks, regents have named leaders for three of the state’s eight institutions.
One of those searches did not at all go as planned – and that’s a good thing.
The Review-Journal’s Richard Lake reported this week that when the hunt for Nevada State College’s next president began, all involved agreed the school needed a career academic. The fast-growing school attracts a lot of nontraditional students and professors who want to teach, not conduct research. In fact, having a president with a strong academic background was so important to faculty and elected regents that the requirement was put in the job advertisement.
The applications poured in and interviews were conducted. But when the dust settled Monday, the college’s new president was exactly the opposite. Bart Patterson, the college’s interim president since November, had been given the job.
Mr. Patterson, 50, has worked in higher education for little more than a decade. He was a private-sector attorney before joining Nevada’s higher education system in 2001. As he slowly climbed the administrative ladder, he began teaching part-time at Nevada State College. Two of his children attended the school. He became intimately familiar with the college’s mission.
His hiring could be interpreted as a typical Nevada inside job. But that would appear to be wrong.
For all their preaching about tolerance and diversity, colleges and universities are notoriously insular – so much so that most don’t even consider a law degree (doctor of jurisprudence) a real Ph.D. That Nevada State College professors and administrators would turn 180 degrees and embrace a president who’s never been a professor speaks volumes about the culture of the campus.
“In the end, it was so clear that the entire institutional advisory board had rallied around Bart Patterson,” Robin Herlands, the college’s Faculty Senate chair, told regents Monday.
Last month, regents named the University of Nevada, Reno’s interim president, Marc Johnson, to the permanent post. And also on Monday, regents tapped Michigan community college administrator Mark Curtis as president of Elko’s Great Basin College. These were more typical hires.
Outside perspectives and experiences can bring fresh approaches to organizations of all kinds. It’s good to see regents and higher education leaders open to such a change in course for a college campus. Now it’s up to Mr. Patterson to make the most of this extraordinary opportunity.