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April 24, 2014

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Chancellor and regents sound off, then make nice

RENO - Sounding like a whistling tea kettle, regents aired frustrations Friday with their maverick university system chancellor. And, typical of their relationship, by day's end they had turned down the flame, cooled off and cordially parted company - in different directions.

Jim Rogers conceded he needed to shoulder some of the blame for not communicating properly with regents and said he would work on that. And then he flew off to relax and contemplate at his Montana ranch.

Regents said after they think Rogers now has a greater understanding of their frustrations with him.

"It's a work in process," the regents' outgoing chairman, Bret Whipple, said of the relationship between the board and the chancellor.

Tensions had been palpable going into Friday's discussion of a previously released evaluation of Rogers. An outside management consultant had said Rogers' supporters and critics needed "some kind of conflict resolution intervention" because feelings toward Rogers were so pitched.

Rogers knew that some regents sung his praises as a focused, take-charge administrator and that others were annoyed by what they see as his arrogant management style.

Friday's long-anticipated showdown sizzled, then sputtered.

Most severe in their public criticisms of Rogers were Howard Rosenberg and Ron Knecht, who called Rogers a bully who badly needed to check his behavior.

Whipple, Rosenberg and Knecht called Rogers to task for not wanting to be accountable to the board. Regent James Dean Leavitt said strong-headedness between him and the chancellor had led to disputes. He also promised to do what he could to improve the relationship.

But there was no political will Friday to fire Rogers.

Several regents called on Rogers to work more cooperatively with the board - and challenged fellow regents to work more smoothly with Rogers. Much of the discussion focused on the pitfalls of miscommunication . Regent Dorothy Gallagher admonished regents to call Rogers to work out issues.

The need for mediation should be taken very seriously, Gallagher said, and regents needed to evaluate their role in the need for that mediation.

"I don't think mediation can happen in a public setting. How would you like to tell someone really what you thought of him with this audience ?" Gallagher said, gesturing to the 50-some people watching the evaluation .

If regents would bring up their issues with Rogers when it is a "little problem, it doesn't become a big problem," Regent Steve Sisolak said, taking a page out of Marriage Therapy 101.

Although there was no actual resolution to any of the criticisms raised, regents told the Sun after that they thought Rogers would take their concerns to heart. The fact that regents restrained their comments showed their efforts to keep the day balanced toward the positive. There was general praise for Rogers for moving the system forward .

Rogers sat stoically throughout the airing of his evaluation. At the end, he promised to work harder to create lines of communication, specifically between himself and Rosenberg, his most blistering critic.

"You can call me anywhere and call me anything I guess," Rogers told regents. "In any case, I appreciate the kind support. I understand the deficiencies and I will do my best to work on it, thanks."

In the stairwell outside the meeting, Rogers stressed his willingness to work with regents, even acknowledging - a major concession for him - that regents were his supervisors and he would be accountable to them. Previously, he had said his primary duty was to the state and to the system, which regents had taken to mean he wasn't accountable to them.

On one issue, Rogers prevailed on Friday. The tempestuous chancellor had quit during a five-day period in January, partly in a spat with Leavitt and saying at the time he would resign the moment Leavitt was elected chairman of the board.

On Friday, regents elected the decidedly neutral Regent Michael Wixom as their new chairman. But Rogers will still have to deal with Rosenberg, who was elected vice chairman.

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