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After losing third chancellor in 5 years, NSHE issues take center stage

Dr. Melody Rose

Dr. Melody Rose

The Nevada System of Higher Education just lost its third chancellor in five years. Melody Rose, hired less than two years ago, will get a severance pay of $600,000 after a board vote last week.

Her departure ends months of tension detailed in a September memo in which Rose outlined allegations of a hostile work place. She said there was a “shocking series of secret decisions and abuses of power.”

In the memo, Rose talked about the board chair, who said God told her how to address masking for students during the pandemic; she talked about a board member coming to a closed-door meeting carrying a gun, which she found a form of intimidation; and she noted that though she leads the entire system, she’s paid less than two men she oversees, the presidents of UNR and UNLV.

That’s just recently. Nevada’s board of regents has a history of issues that have left people watching stumped as to how and why it all happens.

What could this mean as the system seeks another chancellor? Will female candidates even want to try for such a job? And should Nevada end the practice of electing board members, and do what most major universities do, appoint them?

“Let me tell you that it's an unfortunate circumstance that happened in Nevada and happened to Melody Rose. It doesn't speak well for the Nevada [System of Higher Education], quite frankly,” said Richard Novak, a senior consultant with AGB Consulting.

He said the strengths of the board are reflected in Nevada’s institutions. He said someone looking at this position would ask themselves if the situation is unique to Nevada or specifically the board.

He noted Nevada’s board is one of six elected boards in four states at the university level.

“I think an elected board does create a dynamic and a problem that gubernatorial appointed boards, which do have some of their own problems, it creates a greater problem for stability in the system,” he said.

As a consultant, he said members of the board need to remember they represent the citizens of the state, rather than any politician, and they need to bring those issues back to the board room.

“There has to be better selection processes,” Novak said.

Jon Ralston, longtime Nevada politics expert and publisher of The Nevada Independent, wonders why 13 regents are needed on the board.

“It's unwieldy to begin with, you get unqualified people on there. …  Then you have a state in which there has been for decades no culture that values education higher or lower,” he said. “It’s a prescription for disaster and that’s exactly what we got.”

He said if NSHE wants to get good people, they have to change many things, “and that won’t happen overnight.”

Sondra Cosgrove, a history professor at College of Southern Nevada, said there’s a lot of frustration.

“Personally, I don't care" if regents are appointed or elected. "We need to change the way the [NSHE] board functions,” she said.” Are we going to go back to just having somebody that dictates to us? Or are we going to ever get somebody that can do female leadership? Or are people from underserved communities are much more likely to listen than to dictate? That's what we're most worried about.”

Jon Ralston, publisher, The Nevada Independent; Richard Novak, senior consultant and senior fellow, AGB Consulting; Sondra Cosgrove, history professor, College of Southern Nevada

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Dave Berns, now a producer for State of Nevada, recently returned to KNPR after having previously worked for the station from 2005 to 2009.
Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the audience engagement specialist for Nevada Public Radio. She curates and creates content for, our weekly newsletter and social media for Nevada Public Radio and Desert Companion.