Wednesday, April 6, 2005 | 11:13 a.m.
Interim Chancellor Jim Rogers has accumulated a large and elite fan club of federal, state and local officials backing him for the permanent position.
Sixty-five letters endorsing Rogers have poured into the hands of university Board of Regents Chairman Stavros Anthony, many of them dripping with praise for the Sunbelt Communications chairman's work ethic, his passion for higher education, his ability to raise money and his success in uniting the Board of Regents and the eight institutions within the University and Community College System of Nevada.
Rogers' endorsers include Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and most of Nevada's congressional delegation, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn, Nevada Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, Clark County Sheriff Bill Young, the presidents of the Asian, Latin and Urban chambers of commerce, leading Las Vegas attorneys and executives for several local companies and casinos. Administrators who have worked with Rogers at other universities, such as the University of Southern California, the University of Arizona and the University of Idaho also sent in letters.
Many of the executives praising Rogers' are major donors to the the state's universities, including Larry Ruvo, senior managing director of Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada, Donald Snyder, president of Boyd Gaming, the Thomas and Mack families, and George Maloof, president of the Palms Casino. Philip Peckman, president and chief executive officer of the Greenspun Corporation, the owners of which donate to the system and own the Las Vegas Sun, also endorsed Rogers.
The letters have regents again questioning whether Rogers' popularity will scare off other applicants in the national search and whether there is any point in going forward.
Regent Doug Hill of Sparks said he wants regents to just appoint Rogers at their meeting in Carson City next week. He sent out a letter this morning to the full board asking for two other regents to help him place it on the agenda.
"I personally think that Jim Rogers is just a champ of a guy, but we're in this conundrum," Hill said in a phone interview from his law office Tuesday. "If we were to appoint Jim Rogers right now, the media and editorial writers would go crazy and attack us, and if we go through with the search and appoint Jim Rogers they'll attack us because it was all a charade."
In his letter Guinn calls Rogers a "true friend of higher education" and a needed "agent of change" for the state's higher education system who has gained the notice of state lawmakers.
Raggio writes that Rogers has demonstrated "unusual ability" and "effectiveness," and that while Raggio is "not sure why anyone would really want this difficult job,"' he does "know that he (Rogers) generally knows how to get things done!"
Ruvo writes that had it not been for Rogers' stepping in, he might have redirected the $25 million to $35 million he is donating to the University of Nevada School of Medicine for an Alzheimer's center to another cause. Ruvo said years of dealing with the university's bureaucracy had led him to become somewhat disillusioned, but that Rogers "no-nonsense, straightforward" approach had "made an aggravating situation one that is now a pleasant journey."
Several letters inform Anthony that it would be a mistake not to appoint Rogers, and one, written by Las Vegas lawyer Charles Thompson, claims that it is a "necessity" to hire Rogers full time and that "if our Jim Rogers did not exist, it would be a good idea to invent someone just like him."
The quote is a paraphrase of a famous line by 18th century French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau, however, was speaking of God.
Both Anthony and Regent Bret Whipple, chairman of the search committee, said the letters and Rogers' approval among regents make him a "front runner" in the search. But both also said they won't know that for sure until they see all of the possible candidates.
"Nevada deserves the best person for the job and we don't know if he (Rogers) is the best man for the job until we see who the pool of candidates are," Whipple said. "Nobody knows whether it is a done deal or not."
But Whipple did say that it "will take a very strong candidate" to beat Rogers and that the search committee may end up making its decision after screening the initial applications. That means that the committee may decide to do away with the interview and campus visit process that is normally part of narrowing the candidates.
Regent Howard Rosenberg said he feared, like Hill, that the search process would appear to be a charade, that Rogers will have scared off some of the best candidates and that the letters from such powerful and wealthy people in the state might have undue influence on the process.
"When business intrudes in education you have a major problem on your hands," said Rosenberg, who questioned how many of the letter writers were in academia. Rosenberg is an art professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Rosenberg, however, said he was "hoping against hope that there will be a sufficient number of candidates," and like most regents on the board, said there had to be "a choice" in the chancellor search.
Alberto Pimentel, vice president of the search firm A.T. Kearney, Inc., said its common for job candidates in higher education to receive a slew of letters from a multitude of sources, especially if that person is a public candidate. Often, candidates in presidential and chancellor searches do not solicit letters because they don't want their current employers to know they are looking for another position.
Pimentel, who worked with the Board of Regents to hire Nevada State College President Fred Maryanski, said Rogers' popularity and effectiveness will likely scare off other applicants.
"It will impact the search," Pimentel said. "Is it possible to get a good slate of candidates? Yes, but its very difficult."
The search firm currently being used by the system, Greenwood and Associates, have declined to comment on the search.
Rogers said he solicited some of the letters but that many of them were volunteered from longtime acquaintances and friends, including the likes of Kennedy. His wife, Beverly, submitted a letter without his knowledge.
"Maybe I'm using a sledgehammer to drive in a tack," Jim Rogers said, "but I thought it was essential that there be a cross section of information about me from people I have known for 40 years."
Regents moved forward with the search process in November after Rogers originally said he wasn't interested in the full-time job. Rogers, who volunteered for the interim position, announced he wanted to volunteer for another three years in February, after regents had already approved an $80,000 contract with Greenwood.
Greenwood is scheduled to bring forward a list of five to eight candidates April 25, Suzanne Ernst, chief administrative officer for the regents, said.