NSHE regents approves $610,000 contract buyout

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On the left is NSHE Chancellor Melody Rose and Jesus Jara, CCSD superintendent at the UNLV Education Summit. Both have requested buyouts. Photo by Jimmy Romo

Chancellor Melody Rose resigned following a 9-4 vote on a separation agreement approved by the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents (NSHE) during a special meeting. 

On April 1, Rose was approved to receive $610,000 in severance package for the remainder of her tenure. The separation agreement also included a non-disparagement clause barring both Rose and the regents from disparaging “the honesty, integrity, ethics, or professional competence and reputation of one another.”

This separation agreement comes from an investigation into a complaint Rose filed last year against the board’s chair and vice-chair. The accusations listed gender discrimination, intimidation and retaliation in an orchestrated effort to drive her out of her job. An investigation was underway, until recently where the investigators did not find enough evidence to prove her claims. 

According to Nicole Thomas, the Graduate & Professional Student Association (GPSA) president at UNLV, students and faculty were notified of the resignation through “the bare minimum requirement.”

  Nevada open meeting law requires that the meeting agenda must be posted three days prior to an event.

Rose’s decision to leave NSHE comes at the end of a turbulent 19 month period with her fellow board of regents. With more than two years remaining on her contract, Rose decides that now was the best time for her to leave. 

“Large severance packages are the norm at NSHE”, Thomas wrote in an article in the Las Vegas Sun. “And the regents have used taxpayer funds and student fees to finance similar packages to other higher education administrators, including former Chancellor Dan Klaich in 2016.”

At the April 1 meeting, many from the Las Vegas community attended to deliver public comments and express frustration regarding the situation. 

“The departure of Melody Rose is shameful and, equally, not surprising whatsoever based on the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents’ horrendous track record,” said Kris Engelstad of The Engelstad Foundation in a statement sent out that afternoon. “We have now had six NSHE chancellors in six years.”

Engelstad continued, referring to the waste of taxpayers funds used in national searches that would soon be underway with Rose’s departure. 

“Every single time there is a national search for someone new, taxpayer money is thrown into the fire, with each search costing $150,000 to $200,000,” Engelstad said. “Adding fuel, there are contract buyouts–many of which are $500,000-plus each and drag on for decades. This is all an absolute atrocity that is emblematic of a broken system.”

In addition to the statement issued by Engelstad, Kimberly Simmonds gave a public comment at the meeting, “The Board of Regents is full of overpaid bullies that never see any kind of repercussions for their actions.”

In spite of the numerous public comments delivered in person at the meeting, only two regents were in attendance physically, while 11 tuned in virtually. Rose was not present. 

Peter Grema, a UNLV student policy researcher said, “This meeting was unlike others I’ve seen before. It was one of the first times I saw members of the Vegas chamber, former NSHE leadership, and members of the community come together to harshly criticize the leadership at NSHE and the behavior of the regents. It was an earful.”

Grema was one of many UNLV students in attendance at the meeting who delivered public comments. 

Governor Sisolak, a former regent serving from 1999 to 2008, commented publicly on the resignation stating his disappointment with the situation as he was a big supporter of Rose. 

“I think that’s one of the problems that we have in our education system,” Sisolak said. “We’ve got a chancellor and superintendents of public schools dealing with elected school board members and regents that sometimes don’t understand the overall impact of decisions that are made. $610,000 is a big buyout and I know we are short of funding for higher education.”

With Rose’s resignation, many are left wondering what may potentially come next. Until a national search is initiated, NSHE Vice Chancellor Crystal Abba is next in line to serve as officer in charge of NSHE.

“The upcoming regent’s election is this fall, this may be a short term solution to the broken leadership system on the board,” Thomas said, “I believe a long-term solution to the situation is the upcoming joint resolution similar to the narrowly failed ballot Question 1 which proposed to remove the constitutional provisions of the regents.”

The 2020 ballot question narrowly failed despite drawing a majority of the vote in Clark County. A resolution to revive and reword the ballot question passed in the 2021 session of the Nevada Legislature and will return for a second time in 2023. If it passes again, the revised measure will go back on the ballot.

Vegas Chamber CEO Mary Beth Sewald also condemned the regents during public comment and echoed the need for higher education reform. 

“Today’s vote strongly reinforces why the State Legislature and the voters of Nevada must pass significant higher education governance reform for the sake of our students, our economy, and all Nevadans,” Sewald said.The meeting minutes had not been made public by the time of the Scarlet & Gray’s print deadline. The Scarlet & Gray Free Press will provide any updates to the story as they become available on our website at www.unlvscarletandgray.com.

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