Las Vegas Sun

September 21, 2014

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Q+A: Michael Richards

College of Southern Nevada administrator Michael Richards begins a precarious walk on a tightrope today as he takes over management of the beleaguered college from Richard Carpenter.

For starters, Richards, the vice president of academic affairs who was tapped to serve as interim president, knows his days in charge are numbered.

Richards' job is to keep the college moving forward while paving the way for the next leader, whomever it will be. During the next six to 12 months, he wants to do more than just keep the chair warm, but not make too many decisions that will bind his successor.

Richards also has the distasteful task of succeeding a president who spent his currency. Carpenter, who leveraged his golden boy image with Nevada's university chancellor to win a chancellorship of his own in Houston, left the campus soured on him, including by canceling a lucrative apprenticeship program with local labor unions as he was walking out the door.

Richards has worked to restore that relationship with labor, accepting his share of the blame while carefully distancing himself from Carpenter's actions. That strategy is all the more delicate because Richards, who has agreed to serve as long as a year until a permanent campus chief is recruited, has himself applied for a college presidency - at Carpenter's new district near Houston. Following Carpenter's legacy has benefits and pitfalls.

Richards will be judged by those who saw Carpenter's business-minded view of higher education as just what CSN needed and those who saw it as devastating to the college's mission of educating students.

Both pro- and anti-Carpenter factions within the college are wondering how much of Richards' previous actions was based on orders from above and how much was his own doing.

Although he knows the academic side of college administration, with two years at CSN and 23 years at Southern Utah University, Richards, almost 60, is getting a crash course on everything else.

Richards needs to be briefed on plans for a new northwest campus and a for-profit luxury apartment complex on the Henderson campus, while staying abreast of the attorney general's investigation of the college's construction chief for alleged conflicts of interest.

Richards has the support of Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Jim Rogers and regents to do what he needs to do.

"I don't want him to be a keeper of the status quo," Rogers said. "I don't want to lose a year's momentum, and I don't think we will. He's pretty attune d to what is going on, he has faculty support ... He knows Richard Carpenter's strengths and knows the mistakes that he has made ... and he's very excited about going forward."

The Sun talked to Richards Monday about the challenges ahead and his vision for the college:

Q: What's your agenda for the next year?

To ensure four things. The first one is stability. I think one of the best things I can do is to bring stability to our operations in order to promote student success.

Another is continuity. We will continue to work to improve our academic reputation and the student experience.

Third is communication. This is an enormous organization, and I think one of the best things we can do is make lots of efforts to communicate with people.

Fourth is accountability. This is a public institution, we need to make sure the taxpayers of the state are getting value out of the institution, and we have an obligation to communicate that.

How will you do that?

Well, the first step is to come up to speed on issues beyond academics. For instance, has your newspaper gotten all of the information from the college that you've requested?

No.

That goes to accountability. We've got to be more responsive.

What's the status of renewing the college's partnership with the union apprenticeship program?

CSN, regents, the chancellor, the union coordinators - everyone is working together. We are negotiating a multiyear agreement with the unions to strengthen and build the apprenticeship program. Our philosophy is that these are students who need training to enter our workforce , and we all have a role to play in that training.

You've applied for a job under Carpenter in Texas.

I have two priorities. One priority is my family. They know as do I that this is an interim assignment. My second priority is this institution. I've made a pledge to be interim president here until a new president is found and I intend to keep this pledge.

How do you view your role as a temporary leader?

Back in June, I realized this would be a challenge, but we're not just going to sit on our thumbs. When I mentioned stability, continuity, communication and accountability, those are quite active things. We are not going to embark on any new major initiatives, but that's because we have a lot already in the works.

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