Former hotel dean beat out White, Harter for top spot
In a move contrary to faculty’s wishes, higher education officials appointed former dean of the hotel college and head of a proposed campus stadium project Don Snyder as acting UNLV president on Friday.
Based on a recommendation from Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich, the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents approved Snyder for the temporary presidency just two months after President Neal Smatresk decided to step down to become the next leader at the University of North Texas.
To make their decision, higher education officials met with students, faculty and business leaders. Top on the list of candidates were Snyder, former UNLV president Carol Harter and Executive Vice President and Provost John White.
Klaich had the responsibility of recommending an individual to serve in an acting or interim capacity. Unlike an interim who serves a term of up to three years and would most likely become the next president, an acting president serves only until a permanent president is named through a national search.
Last month, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution in favor of appointing an acting president and conducting a national search, consistent in part with what Klaich presented to the board for a vote.
But Harter was the top pick among faculty for the acting presidency. During an open forum at the Stan Fulton Building on Wednesday, a number of the faculty in attendance endorsed Harter. The chemistry department wrote a letter to Klaich stating that Harter’s 10 year experience as UNLV president made her the sensible choice.
Harter’s experience in dealing with the state Legislature also made her the ideal candidate among faculty. If a permanent president is not appointed by the end of this year, the acting president will be UNLV’s champion in garnering state funds during next year’s Legislative session.
“I would say generally speaking, there was a good deal more open expression of support for Carol Harter as opposed to Don Snyder if we just focus on those two,” said Faculty Senate Chair Paul Werth.
White said he is interested in joining the national search for the permanent presidency, and as a result several groups on campus did not mention his name for the acting position. Regents Cedric Crear and Allison Stephens said they would have preferred the board appoint White, who could have been UNLV’s first black president.
In a 32-page memorandum released Thursday, Klaich said after talking to members of the UNLV and business communities that the campaign for the acting presidency came down to Harter and Snyder.
Student government leaders were the only parties who were not outspoken toward the temporary selection of UNLV’s president, according to the memo, partly because it was difficult to talk to their constituents during the winter break. They expressed concern only for the national search, reasoning that it was important UNLV seek out the most qualified candidate instead of limiting itself to individuals on campus.
Ultimately, Klaich thought Snyder, a former executive at Boyd Gaming Corp. and the Fremont Street Experience, would be best for the job because of his business background.
Faculty and the business community both hope to see UNLV become a Tier-1 institution in two decades. A critical component in reaching that milestone consists of increasing UNLV’s endowment value and amount of annual gifts. Other projects such as the proposed on-campus stadium and medical school, which has the support of many UNLV, higher education and business officials, relies on support from the local community.
“[Snyder’s] close ties to the business community and philanthropic community will send a message to those groups how important they are to UNLV’s success,” Klaich said in his memo.
“Mr. Snyder has a history of success with major projects at a time when major projects ― stadium, new hotel college building and medical school ― are at the forefront of UNLV’s agenda,” Klaich said. “He has demonstrated the tenacious, yet collaborative leadership necessary to complete seemingly impossible projects.”
Eleven regents voted to approve Klaich’s recommendation with Regents Ron Knecht and Stephens abstaining.
“I am humbled by your decision,” Snyder said. “I will never let you down and I look forward to getting to work.”
It was a victory for members of the business community, which lobbied hard Friday for Snyder. Public comment lasted about an hour, a rare phenomenon during Board meetings, as businessmen, including Las Vegas Sun publisher Brian Greenspun, took turns urging for Snyder’s appointment.
Ironically, Beverly Rogers, a major financial donor to UNLV, was the lone voice supporting Harter. Her husband Jim Rogers, former NSHE chancellor, played a key role in Harter’s decision to resign in 2006.
“I am here to stand up to for Carol Harter,” Rogers said. “I am sick to my stomach about the recommendation.”
Although faculty’s endorsements for Harter were unsuccessful, Werth acknowledged that there were other voices that mattered during the selection process.
“What it does suggest is there’s an important group whose enthusiasm for the university has to be taken into account,” he said. “It’s an important, political aspect.”
Similar to feedback from the Athletics Department, Werth believes Snyder as acting president and White as provost make for a strong leadership team for UNLV.
“There’s always plenty to lose, but I don’t envision that happening,” Werth said. “I’m reasonably optimistic that we’ll get to the transitional phase pretty well and that we’ll come out at least okay and probably very well.”
Snyder’s base salary as acting president will start at $300,000 effective Feb. 1 until Dec. 31. He is expected to make an appearance during Tuesday’s Faculty Senate meeting at noon in the Student Union.