Faculty eager to find Smatresk's replacement
Outgoing president says farewell to staff leaders
UNLV may have a vacancy in its top leadership position by Dec. 12, but faculty are determined not to let that lead to any loss in the university’s momentum.
Less than two weeks after President Neal Smatresk announced he would most likely leave UNLV for the University of North Texas, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution Tuesday stating that they would like a national search for his permanent successor to take place as soon as possible.
The resolution also says the Senate believes an acting president would be an ideal temporary solution.
It is the responsibility of the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents and the NSHE Chancellor Dan Klaich to find UNLV’s next leader. To fill Smatresk’s vacancy while a permanent replacement is sought, the Board could either appoint an acting president or an interim president who will have a term of up to three years. The Board could also disregard NSHE policy and seek a different solution.
If Smatresk leaves, the Board will form a committee with six regents. It will base its final decision on feedback from a search committee comprised of students, faculty and campus leaders. Neither committee has been formed yet.
In a state with a history of institutions battling for resources, most faculty say vetting a new president through a nationwide search will lead to a more experienced candidate pool and will increase the university’s chances of having a president capable of handling the competition.
They also say an acting president is better for the short-term because the absence of term limit may give UNLV a stronger sense of permanency and more political leverage when addressing the Board and State Legislature.
Senator Wolfgang Bein from the college of engineering, however, said that UNLV’s best bet may be right on campus.
“I would just like to caution that if we find someone from inside who is kind of well aligned with this team and has great leadership capability, it might save us a lot of money,” Bein said.
Plans for the 2015 state legislative session will begin next year, which has some faculty worried that it could lose state funds to UNR and community college counterparts.
“I would have a concern that UNLV would be less effective in being able to attain its goals … in terms of the state,” said Faculty Senate chair Paul Werth, “in terms of its own goals with regard to research, student retention, student success and enhancing the student experience.”
Two years after UNLV underwent drastic budget cuts, university leaders hope it will become a top-ranking research institution within two decades, a goal set by Smatresk in September. It may also be the site of a long-awaited medical school and a proposed on-campus stadium that would bring football back to university grounds.
Faculty say starting the search early could increase the likelihood that a suitable successor who will keep these proposals and aspirations alive may be discovered in time for the next legislative session.
“Time is an enemy and you should move as fast as you can,” Smatresk warned the Faculty Senate.
But Klaich said UNLV will have a new president before the legislative session. He said though Smatresk may be popular among key state and education leaders, his departure will not threaten UNLV’s progress.
“These institutions are tough and strong,” he said. “They’re much more important than any president or chancellor or any other individual.”
Still, though the Faculty Senate has wasted little time in voicing its opinion, it is not the only opinion that counts.The Board of Regents and Klaich also have to listen to other faculty, students, as well as CSUN and the Graduate and Professional Student Association.
“Faculty is an important voice,” Klaich said. “They’re not the only voice, but they’re an important voice.”
Werth said that though ensuring all voices are heard may slow down the process, it is a worthy sacrifice.
“I think probably the most important thing is that we are consulted along the way,” he said. “I have every reason to believe that will happen and that, importantly, people feel as though they’ve been consulted.”
Before leaving the Senate to rousing applause, Smatresk gave one last piece of advice.
“I would just say, don’t settle,” Smatresk said. “Don’t let anything come off the table. Keep working for all the things that this institution has been so determined to get.”
If Smatresk is approved by the UNT Board of Regents, his last day at UNLV is expected to be Feb. 2.