Las Vegas Sun

November 28, 2014

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LOOKING IN ON: HIGHER EDUCATION

RENO - What could have been a divisive fight over selection of a new Board of Regents chairman instead turned into a show of grace.

Regents were split for weeks over who might prevail as chairman, with five people in contention at one point and the board split into three- and four-member factions.

But when it came time to vote, only two people were nominated: Steve Sisolak and Michael Wixom. Both are known for penetrating analysis on board issues and , of late, have been peacemakers. So it was a difficult choice.

Wixom told regents initially that he didn't want the time-intensive, high - pressure job. The comments prompted a few of his supporters to switch to Sisolak.

Regent Dorothy Gallagher abstained because she said she couldn't choose. Regent Howard Rosenberg said he had similar feelings but voted for Sisolak.

Sisolak, however, said he wanted to pull his name out of the running. He couldn't do so for procedural reasons, so he voted for Wixom. The vote was the seventh for Wixom and it gave him the post.

In thanking the board, Wixom said he thinks reports of board infighting are silly, because they are just differences between highly opinionated regents. The best policies are developed with the tension of different perspectives, Wixom said.

Regents narrowly voted last week against instituting a policy measure to force University System Chancellor Jim Rogers and other system executives to disclose what they contribute to candidates running for seats on the board.

The policy, which would have required executives to report donations within 48 hours, failed by one vote.

Several regents had questions about the way the policy was worded and thought it did not address more serious issues, such as the possibility that companies with business before the system could use political donations to influence regents. The universities and colleges under regents' control have several private-public developments in the works.

Several regents also wanted to make sure the policy, advocated first by Regent Ron Knecht, pertained only to elections to the board. Regents did not address another concern some have , that Rogers has hurt the system through his political involvement.

Rogers at one time threatened to campaign against now - Gov. Jim Gibbons and gave significant money to his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Dina Titus.

Regents will take another look at the policy at a future board development committee meeting.

Bret Whipple, who is stepping down as chairman, brought flowers Friday for all women on the board staff as a thank-you for their work. Whipple, a boot-wearing ranch owner and lawyer, also gave a pair of boots to board Chief Executive Officer Scott Wasserman.

Regent James Dean Leavitt subsequently thanked Whipple for his service with a pair of hand crafted, Italian leather Lucchese boots, size 13. The boots, which range from $400 to $2,000, pictured a buxom blonde sitting on a ranch corral, which Leavitt indicated was supposed to be Whipple's wife.

He also told Whipple that the boots were not made for walking.

"You don't wear these on the ranch," Leavitt said. "You let these sit in your closet and you look at them , and every month or two you wear them to court."

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