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EDITORIAL: NSHE fails to weed out problem employee

There are few advantages to centralization, especially in government. Bureaucracy always tends to suffocate efficiency. But at least everyone is under one roof and talks to one another, right?

You don’t know government. And you certainly don’t know the Nevada System of Higher Education.

NSHE officials and their elected servants on the Board of Regents laud the linkage of the state’s public community colleges and universities. But it’s a highly dysfunctional marriage. Like so many other public agencies, NSHE failed miserably at getting rid of a problem employee — and keeping him off the public payroll after he willingly left.

As reported Monday by the Review-Journal’s Ana Ley, UNLV employee Mallory Levins had to deal with an unimaginably awful work environment during her tenure in an NSHE office: She said a male colleague regularly masturbated at work, on the clock, and sometimes when she was sitting just a few feet away and could hear it.

“He just got louder and louder,” Levins said in an interview with Ms. Ley last week. “I was beginning to feel unsafe.” Nasty.

But government being government, Hank Stone got to keep cashing a paycheck. Job protections for NSHE workers are maddeningly rigid. Stone left NSHE on his terms, via retirement, and in 2013 Ms. Levins transferred to a college access specialist position at UNLV. But she discovered that Stone had been contracted by UNLV to work as a real estate attorney — and she worked in the same building as him. How in the world could this have happened?

An August 2014 email from UNLV General Counsel Elda Sidhu to Ms. Levins’ former supervisor with NSHE provided an explanation: “The issues you raise with respect to Hank’s employment with and departure from NSHE have never been shared, uttered or even implied by any representative of NSHE.”

Stone’s contract with UNLV expired in August and hasn’t been renewed. And the Board of Regents this fall enacted a policy change that allows its eight institutions to share confidential information about employees. What timing. The change is long overdue, but it doesn’t appear that it would have made any difference in Stone’s case, because there might not be any confidential information about his tenure in the first place. The system likely never documented Stone’s behavior at all. But there are signs it has red-flagged Ms. Levins for blowing the whistle.

It’s grossly ironic that a system which widely condemns “male privilege,” which considers flirting a form of sexual harassment, would tolerate serial masturbation. And it validates everyone who has noted that entire departments of NSHE workers have time to pleasure themselves on a regular basis because they do so little at such a high cost. Take an ax to NSHE already.

The system failed Ms. Levins, it failed UNLV and NSHE itself, and it failed the taxpaying public. It can’t be allowed to fail in this manner again.

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