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November 27, 2014

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TV mogul is willing to serve as chancellor

Television station owner Jim Rogers, one of Nevada's biggest donors to higher education, has told several state Board of Regents members that he would be interested in serving as the next chancellor of the University and Community College System of Nevada.

A vote on his offer to serve as interim chancellor to replace Chancellor Jane Nichols -- who is retiring later this year because of a hearing problem and plans to return to teaching -- could occur as early as the next regents' meeting on May 7 in Las Vegas.

At least some regents are already in Rogers' corner and others praise him even if not yet committed to his selection.

Rogers, owner of Sunbelt Communications and KVBC Channel 3, was attending the National Association of Broadcasters Convention in Las Vegas Monday and was not immediately available for comment.

But in separate conversations with individual regents over the past week, Rogers -- whose net worth is estimated to be at least $300 million -- said he would be willing to serve on an interim basis for $1 a year.

Regent Stavros Anthony, board chairman, said he would recommend as early as next month's board meeting that a vote be taken on Roger's offer if the university system bylaws allow for an interim chancellor to be selected in that manner.

Anthony said that he talked with Rogers over the weekend and understood that Rogers would only be interested in an interim post, giving the board ample time to perform a national search for a permanent replacement.

"He approached me over the weekend and said he would be happy to serve as interim chancellor for $1 a year," Anthony said. "It would be for at least a year because we need someone to give us some stability as we work with the next Legislature.

"If you look at Jim Rogers, he's a man of integrity," Anthony said. "He's a big supporter of education in Nevada. It might be exciting to have him as chancellor. Right now, I would support him."

The proposal doesn't come out of left field for Rogers. Four years ago, he offered to become interim superintendent of the Clark County School District at no cost to taxpayers following the retirement of Brian Cram. A search committee recommended Rogers on an interim basis but the district instead hired current superintendent Carlos Garcia.

"I don't consider myself a scholar," Rogers told the Las Vegas Sun in 2000. "I'm really a builder."

Rogers, 65, has donated at least $200 million to colleges and universities throughout the country, with a particular emphasis on law schools given his background as a trained lawyer.

His only hands-on experience as an educator involved a yearlong stint as a teaching fellow at an Illinois law school in the 1960s. But because of his philanthropy, he has extensive contacts in the world of higher education.

Regent Mark Alden said he talked with Rogers about the chancellor's position over the weekend and encouraged the television mogul to pursue it. Alden, in fact, said the sooner the board hires Rogers the better.

"He would do what is right for Nevada," Alden said. "Once he told me he was interested I encouraged him. He's a no-nonsense person. He would hit the ground running.

"He's very knowledgeable about law, about contracts and about higher education initiatives. I would like to see him get us through the legislative process. This is an opportunity we should not waffle away."

Fellow Regent Steve Sisolak said he was preparing to meet with Rogers today.

"He offers some unique opportunities," Sisolak said. "He's been very active in higher education in terms of fund-raising. He understands higher education far better than most people do. He would bring the work perspective from Sunbelt Communications to the university system and that could be productive.

"It might be what the board needs to pull the board together. The board is fractious now and he's the kind of guy who could build consensus on the board."

Regents Bret Whipple, Douglas Seastrand and Thomas Kirkpatrick also said they were aware of Rogers' interest. Seastrand, who spoke with Rogers on Friday and on Monday, referred to him as an "external" possibility, someone who would come from outside of academia.

"He's certainly someone who brings a lot of credibility and is worth looking at," Seastrand said. "As an external chancellor who would be working with fund-raising, he would be an excellent choice. He's a huge philanthropist and he's very interested in education."

Whipple was praiseworthy of Rogers -- the two men chatted at a University of Nevada, Las Vegas Foundation dinner at the Bellagio on Saturday -- but the regent said he was not yet ready to comment on whether he would support Rogers' bid.

"I don't want to commit to anyone but I feel very comfortable with Jim Rogers," Whipple said. "He has excellent ideas and a proven track record. He wants to bring private money into the public arena and he wants to save taxpayers' money. He's interested in bringing into the system the best professionals we can find."

Kirkpatrick also was noncommittal.

"I could accept anyone who would do the job right," he said.

Rogers, who is known as a blunt and volatile perfectionist, appears to have an inside track on the job, based on his recent contacts with regents.

"It seems to me that there's a lot of momentum for Rogers," Billy Vassiliadis, a veteran Las Vegas political consultant, said. "On an interim basis, I don't think they could do much better.

"Right now, that system needs a Jim Rogers. They need someone to go in there -- much the way (Gov. Kenny) Guinn did at UNLV in the post-(Jerry) Tarkanian era -- who isn't concerned about job security or being vested in the retirement system.

"In the shambles that the board has left the system, they need someone who is tough and who will make difficult decisions. He's not shy about making tough decisions."

A few high-profile individuals from outside of academia have made a successful transition to education. Two notable examples are former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, who became superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, and former U.S. Sen. David Boren, who became president of the University of Oklahoma.

"If he is indeed interested, he'd be an interesting candidate," Richard Morgan, dean of UNLV's Boyd School of Law, said of Rogers. "There are certainly examples of business people or political leaders who have moved into education circles quite successfully."

Elaine Wynn, a UNLV Foundation trustee along with Rogers, said she had a recent conversation with her fellow trustee about his interest in the chancellor's position. She described Rogers as being "extremely energized" about the possibility of making a contribution to the university system.

"Whenever you have a candidate that has the kind of credentials that Jim Rogers has it would be worth very serious consideration," Wynn, wife of casino magnate Steve Wynn, said. "He's an accomplished businessman and a huge philanthropist and he genuinely cares about this state.

"The question goes to process as to how you take a person who has been successful in a world that isn't part of an educational institution and have that person be able to work with people who might be comfortable going a more traditional way."

Nichols said she did not believe it to be her place to recommend her replacement but she did have praise for Rogers.

"He's a wonderful Nevadan," Nichols said. "He has contributed generously to our institutions."

Two other names that have been floated as possible future chancellors are former Nevada Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa, who also was a regent, and Nevada State College President Kerry Romesburg.

Sisolak said he received a telephone call Monday from Del Papa, who indicated to him that some unnamed individuals suggest she inquire about the chancellor's position. But Sisolak said he does not know if she is seriously interested in the position.

"There is a consensus on the board that we need to do something quickly," Sisolak said. "Nichols' health problems aren't getting any better."