GUEST COLUMN:

Students shortchanged by lack of oversight, transparency at NSHE

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Wade Vandervort

Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents Chief of Staff to the Board Dean Gould speaks during a special meeting, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020.

On Aug. 7, the Nevada System of Higher Education attracted negative attention from students, the public and state officials after the board of regents’ chief of staff attempted to silence Regent Lisa Levine during a meeting with his reprehensible statement, “I don’t want to man-speak but I will have to if you continue to child-speak.”

The chief of staff, Dean Gould, never offered Levine a formal apology. Instead, the statement Gould issued later that evening simply placed the blame back on Levine.

Through his non-apology statement, Gould cited a lack of decorum as the reason for his frustration and outburst; he ended the sentiment with, “I should not have stooped to her level of acrimony.” Regardless of the procedural process interruptions, Gould’s eruption and handling of the situation served as a prime example of the wrong way to speak to any woman, and further demonstrated the out-of-touch culture present at NSHE.

It is disappointing, but not surprising, that NSHE has since hired an outside attorney to provide “advice and counsel” on the matter. This begs a question: Would all of this really be necessary if NSHE routinely encouraged accountability and transparency?

NSHE, the administrative body that oversees the state’s universities in a way similar to a superintendent’s office managing public schools, claims to support accountability and transparency through its operational culture. As exemplified through its history and practices, however, it does not. The system has failed to condemn the mistreatment of women in the workplaces it oversees — and through its “investigations” it finds nothing.

In 2015, an investigation was launched over allegations that a female NSHE employee walked in on a male employee masturbating at his desk on the job. The situation was looked into and the male employee was removed from his position. However, a few months later, the female employee who had reported the situation took a job at UNLV, only to find the previously “fired” male employee happily working in a nearby office. Landing a comfortable job under the jurisdiction of your previous employer fails to align with the presumed definition of “fired.” A culture that protects its own by covering up their tracks is not a transparent one and, unfortunately, seems all too common at NSHE.

In 2016, Andrew Clinger, NSHE’s chief financial officer, left his previous job as city manager of Reno amid allegations that he had sexually harassed two female employees and had created a hostile work environment. Clinger maintained he had done nothing inappropriate, but Reno’s city council later approved a $300,000 settlement in a lawsuit filed by the employees.

Following the loss of his job in Reno, Clinger quickly was offered a job as NSHE’s chief financial officer, where he works today and drew a salary and benefits totaling $226,194.99 in 2019.

As for Gould, it’s evident that his comments toward Levine are inappropriate and offensive. But we’re left to wonder: What legal jargon will the investigation throw at Levine in a desperate attempt to save face? It is unfortunate that in today’s progressive culture, accountability and transparency are still not a priority for NSHE.

Further, in a time when COVID-19 has ransacked everyone’s budget, how much will Gould’s unacceptable behavior cost taxpayers?

This year, NSHE Chancellor Thom Reilly assured students that the implementation of a student surcharge would be a last resort as higher education faced budget cuts. Yet in another prime example in which NSHE could help students directly, it chooses not to. Instead, because of Gould’s behavior, we are left paying at least $9,500 for a third-party investigation. That’s the amount specified in the contract between the system and its out-of-state counsel, with the contract allowing for an unspecified amount of additional payments.

This amount of money is equivalent to 131 UNLV, 158 Nevada State College, or 263 College of Southern Nevada students not having to pay additional surcharges (at a rate of $6 per credit for UNLV, $5 per credit for Nevada State College, and $3 per lower-division credit for College of Southern Nevada, all while considering a full-time 12 credit load).

NSHE claims to fight for students at every level and to be a proud proponent of progressive ideals. Unfortunately, both of those statements are false. Before we can fix the overlying issues in the system, we must fix the culture that resides inside the system. The hypocrisy must end. Only with true accountability and transparency will our postsecondary higher education institutions finally be able to move forward together.

Olivia Cheche is a third-year political science and Brookings Public Policy student at UNLV, and Joshua Padilla is a fourth-year civil engineering and Brookings Public Policy student at UNLV. Cheche serves as the Senate president for CSUN Student Government, and Padilla serves as student body president.