First posted on Ramirez Group’s blog.
Last Tuesday the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee heard AB150, which would create the Legislative Bureau of Governmental Oversight, Accountability and Program Evaluation designed to enhance the Nevada Legislature’s ability to oversee the activity of state agencies including the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE), particularly during the interim session. Normally this wouldn’t be a hot topic except that when it comes to providing quality education, the state of Nevada consistently ranks well below average. Putting aside the obvious points that because of the demonstrated inability of NSHE to attract federal dollars for the state’s higher education institutions, virtually all of the budget for NSHE is appropriated by the Legislature from the state general fund and that the Legislature might want to know if the half a billion dollars Nevada spends on higher education is being used wisely.
NSHE Chancellor, “Boss Dan Klaich”, sent his in-house lobbyist Constance Brooks to argue that NSHE should be exempt because the University Board of Regents already provides oversight of NSHE. One would assume that for an issue as important as this, Boss Klaich would personally engage on discussing the reasons why NSHE should be exempt from additional oversight, but not Klaich. Apparently there were more important items on his agenda that day. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Boss Klaich has failed to show leadership on issues that matter to Nevadans pertaining to higher education.
It is important to note that Boss Klaich enjoys more powers as system Chancellor than any other Chancellor in the nation. The reason for this is that NSHE, formerly the University and Community College System of Nevada (UCCSN), was struggling so much that in May 2004 they appointed an extraordinary person, Jim Rogers, to serve as Interim Chancellor. The regents gave Mr. Rogers unprecedented authority to turn around the struggling system. This included changing the name to help erase the previous stigma. Ironically, Klaich is a former University Regent serving from 1984 until 1997 during which time he helped lead us into the disaster that Mr. Rogers was tasked with fixing. Boss Klaich even gloats on his official biography that during his time as a University Regent he served two terms as Chairman of the Board. Klaich rejoined the system in October 2004 as Chief Counsel and has worked his way up to replace Mr. Rogers as Chancellor inheriting the powers that were given to him.
Due to the broad authority enjoyed by Klaich, there is little evidence to indicate that the Board of Regents is capable of overseeing him and the NSHE administration. The primary reason for this is because virtually all information put before the Regents is controlled by either Boss Klaich or his outsized staff of 190. As a consequence, the only information that the Regents have access to is information that Boss Klaich wants them to have. Indeed, if you have ever watched a Regents’ meeting you might wonder why Klaich – who serves at the pleasure of the popularly elected Regents – sits among the Regents as a sort of Super Regent as opposed to in the audience, determines meeting agendas, and when he is not dominating the conversation ensures that his talking points are parroted by compliant Regents.
As for oversight by the Regents, there appears to be very little. Take for example the recent revelation that current Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) President Maria Sheehan was disqualified as a finalist for the chancellor’s position at Arizona Pima Community College because when she headed Desert Community College District in California that institution lied about its enrollment to extract more state funding. Instead of the Regents asking Klaich to launch an investigation to ensure that Sheehan was not involved in the fraud or determine why this malfeasance was not uncovered during Sheehan’s vetting for the TMCC job, according to a Reno Gazette Journal article, Boss Klaich unilaterally cleared her based simply upon a conversation he had with Sheehan.
This, of course, comes on the heels of last year’s revelation that a prominent donor to UNR sent a letter to the Regents indicating that if Marc Johnson was not selected as the new president of UNR then “there can be no assurance that current funding discussions will continue or that the projects currently being considered for funding will receive support in the future.” Again, instead of the Regents calling for Klaich to investigate if Johnson’s hiring was corrupted by the preferences of a big donor, Boss Klaich dismissed those concerns by telling Las Vegas Sun columnist Patrick Coolican that “I certainly do not read that letter … as a threat. Nor do I think a reasonable person reading it fairly could do so.”
And then there is Klaich’s penchant for authorizing no bid contracts to validate NSHE’s vanity projects that are paid for with funds of unknown origin; a course of action that is particularly galling given the deep cuts that have been made to some parts of the higher education budget. See, for instance, the recent $100,000 “study” conducted by Richard Katz on behalf of NSHE that argues, not surprisingly, that NSHE should be charged with overseeing all online learning in the state. More egregious is how Boss Klaich used his hand-picked consultant, Dennis Jones (NCHEMS), to undermine the work of the contractor, (SRI International – the same consultant that wrote Governor Sandoval’s economic development report) chosen by the interim committee created by the Legislature to study revising the higher education formula.
Not only did Boss Klaich employ his own contractor with ties to one of the bids that were rejected by the full committee, but when he was asked directly by the chair of the committee, then State Senator Steven Horsford, if he was using a contractor to generate what eventually would become 30 iterations of his funding formula, he said he was not. Later in the process, Boss Klaich copped to hiring a consultant but insisted that taxpayer dollars were not used.
Finally, there is the issue of failing to adequately prepare for the changing demographics in the state. Over 15 years ago, several community leaders presented UCCSN a report on how the growing Hispanic population was changing the composition of the student bodies at both the K-12 campuses and higher education institutions. These community leaders also stressed the need for UCCSN to prepare to establish a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) to better serve the growing Hispanic student population, and to provide the system with access to more federal revenue.
With over 15 years of preparation time, and countless resources to help NSHE reach this goal in at least one of the institutions of higher education, Boss Klaich has failed to manage this process and ensure that proper resources were invested to reach this goal. As a result, Nevada is the only state in the southwest United States, and the only state with a statewide Hispanic population greater than 15% without an HSI. This is not just a failure to the Hispanic population, but a failure to the entire state of Nevada.
In the coming weeks and months, this space will be devoting significant attention to NSHE’s machinations, which seem to have more to do with securing Boss Klaich’s empire than reforming and improving the state’s system of higher education.
Stay tuned because as you will see the present governance and administration of NSHE offers a case study of a bloated, manipulative, and under-performing bureaucracy that does everything possible to avoid public scrutiny.
Andres Ramirez has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and various other media outlets offering his expertise on politics and current affairs. He began his career serving as legislative aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Most recently, he served as the Senior Vice President of the political and advocacy think-tank NDN. Currently, Andres serves as the Vice Chair of the DNC Hispanic Caucus where he is tasked with helping the DNC develop and implement its Hispanic engagement strategy, and is President of the Ramirez Group in Las Vegas, Nevada.