Tuesday, November 16, 2010

UNLV-NFA seeks members input on the status of the UNLV presidency

Dear UNLV-NFA members,

As you know, Chancellor Klaich has communicated to the campus, in an open memo distributed last month, that he has placed on the Board of Regents agenda for the December meeting a discussion of the status of UNLV President Neal Smatresk's contract.

Later this week, Chancellor Klaich and the Chairman of the Board of Regents James Dean Leavitt will visit the UNLV campus. The Chancellor has asked to meet with certain campus leaders, including the NFA chapter executive committee. Over the past few weeks, I have solicited opinions from you in a general email (sent the last week of October) and in outreach conversations I have undertaken by mail and phone. I want to thank the many of you who have provided input already, and I am writing now to ask for additional feedback to present in our meeting later this week and to the Board in early December.

As you will recall, President Smatresk was appointed in July 2009 to a two-year contract with the nominal status of "Interim President," but (by stated intent of the Board at that time) full authority of the office of President. He is currently in the second year of that contract, and the Chancellor's memorandum proposes that he may recommend in December to the Board "whether [Neal] will be retained at UNLV as President on a permanent basis."

In effect, that would seem to amount to a statement that the Chancellor and Board are considering whether to extend the president's current contract to a full three-year contract, with the full title of "President". (Of course, no president is permanent, since any president of an NSHE institution, under the terms of the System Code, serves a three-year term subject to renewal after a review by the Board and can be removed at any time by the Chancellor or a majority of the Regents.)

According to the Chancellor's memo, he and Chairman Leavitt will be seeking input on whether such an extension and clarification of his status is warranted by his performance over the past 18 months and whether or not the Board should conduct a "full search process" to make that decision.

The System Code (title II article 1.5.4) calls, in the case of a "vacancy" in the office of President, the Board convening an Institutional Advisory Committee, consisting of faculty representatives as well as staff, community and student representatives, to advise a Search Committee of six regents on a "nominee or nominees" to consider for the position.

While the spirit of that article is clear -- to ensure faculty involvement in the process -- the letter of it offers relatively little practical guidance for a situation such as the present, in which the position is not vacant and an incumbent has held the position for an extended period of time.

One course of action that the Chancellor has indicated he might pursue to deal with this anomaly is to recommend that the Board amend the Code to allow the suspension of the provisions of II.1.5.4 for this instance. A proposed Sense of the Faculty Senate resolution opposing this move was first amended, then tabled, at the most recent Senate meeting. Published reports and assertions to the contrary, which attribute a position to the Senate or the Executive Committee, are not accurate.

What is clear is that the spirit of the Code calls for faculty involvement in any action concerning the presidency, and it is to this end that the NFA chapter leadership supports the survey being conducted by the Faculty Senate's Campus Affairs Committee on the president's performance, so that results can be presented to the Board in advance of its December meeting.

Further towards this end, the NFA is asking for feedback of a general nature from its membership as well as some specific questions, which have been mailed to current members, on issues concerning the presidency that seem particularly relevant to the NFA as the campus AAUP affiliate: the President's performance in terms of defense of tenure rights, shared governance, community- and government-relations initiatives on behalf of the faculty, and future goals for the president, and how the Board and System might proceed in the future in terms of faculty consultation on the issue of the presidency.

On each of these issues, I am asking for your feedback in the form of several questions below the signature. Please either email your response to me at this address or, if you would prefer your comments to remain anonymous, please send them to Mary Phillips and she will detach identifying information and forward on the substance to me.

All faculty members, of course, are free to communicate their views as well to the Faculty Senate, through the office of the chair, or to the Chancellor and Regents directly.

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