Las Vegas Sun

August 20, 2014

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Fight for CCSN chief flares up

University system Chancellor Jim Rogers really, really, wants to keep Richard Carpenter as president of the Community College of Southern Nevada.

So much so, that he told a Houston newspaper reporter that he would sue the North Harris Montgomery Community College District and its search consultant if trustees continued to pursue Carpenter as their next chancellor.

For his part, Carpenter is playing both sides of the fence - negotiating contracts with Rogers and North Harris officials. On Tuesday, Carpenter - who was scheduled to undergo shoulder surgery - could not be reached for comment.

But Rogers had plenty to say.

"I told her (Courier reporter Tiffany Williams) to pass it on that if they mess with me I'll sue them," Rogers said Tuesday.

This isn't the first time Rogers has told other states to back off when they've come hunting for Carpenter.

Rogers said he made the same lawsuit threat to a Louisiana search consultant when Carpenter was a finalist for the chancellor position there in October. When the search consultant called for a reference, Rogers said he gave him an earful about the litigation Louisiana would face if the state tried to hire Carpenter. The chancellor had a similar no-holds-barred meeting with Carpenter at the time, telling him in no uncertain terms that he would enforce his contract.

Carpenter blinked and stayed put.

Rogers said that Carpenter was too talented to let go, and that the community college needed his continued leadership. But more importantly, he did not want to set a precedent that other states could raid Nevada's presidents.

"Otherwise I have eight presidential contracts that are no good," Rogers said.

Legally, Rogers is on solid ground, two UNLV employment law specialists said. Carpenter has one year left on a "term contract," meaning either he or his employer can enforce those terms.

The contract allows Carpenter and other presidents to be fired with or without cause, but in all but a few cases, the Nevada System of Higher Education would be liable for the money due on his contract. The system, likewise, can sue if Carpenter terminates the contract early, Boyd School of Law professors Elaine Shoben and Ann McGinley said.

System officials could not force Carpenter to come to work - that would violate the 13th Amendment prohibiting slavery - but they could get an injunction barring Carpenter from working anywhere else, Shoben and McGinley said.

The system is also within its right to sue any third party that interferes with an employee fulfilling his contract, Shoben and McGinley said.

But practically speaking, it is unlikely the system would sue if Carpenter left, Board of Regents Chairman Bret Whipple said, and any litigation attempts probably would require board action.

"We only want our presidents to be here if they want to be here," Whipple said. "I want them to embrace Nevada, and not be here because of feared litigation."

Two campus bosses have left the Nevada system midcontract in recent years without repercussions.

In December 2005, UNR President John Lilley resigned early, with Rogers' encouragement, to take a job at Baylor University in Texas, and Nevada State College President Kerry Romesburg left in June 2004 after only two years on the job to head Jacksonville University in Florida.

Rogers' tactics to thwart recruiting raids are commonly applied in professional sports and high-tech jobs where trade secrets might be involved, but neither professor could think of an incident in which it was used in higher education. The threat of litigation is often a bargaining tool, with the dispute resolved between the two parties and the employee outside of court.

"Usually threatening the suit makes the other party give up their pursuit, because it is a legitimate claim," Shoben said.

The tactic might get Texas to back off, McGinley said, but it puts Carpenter in a tough position if he wants to leave.

Employers in these situations usually offer extra incentives to keep an employee, McGinley said.

Rogers is doing that , too. He had dinner with Carpenter on Sunday and solidified a memorandum of agreement - a sort of wish list written by Carpenter - to keep him in Nevada.

That agreement will be final as soon as the CCSN Foundation agrees to throw more money into Carpenter's salary, Rogers said. Foundation executives have scheduled a public meeting to discuss the subject Friday.

Al Whalen, secretary-treasurer of the CCSN Foundation, said executives had a policy of not discussing action before a meeting.

Texas officials, meanwhile, have set up a committee to negotiate a contract with Carpenter, said Steve Lestarjette, associate vice chancellor of public affairs.

Judy Stubblefield, the official in charge of the search process for North Harris, and North Harris trustees have not returned numerous requests for comment.

"If I had any reservations or concerns about his desire to work for us or our ability to work out an agreement, he wouldn't be considered," Board of Trustees Chairman Randy Bates told the Houston Chronicle.

Carpenter has repeatedly told the Sun he is only talking to North Harris, but his comments to Houston media and e-mails sent by Bates and Stubblefield to North Harris faculty and staff indicate that Texas officials believe Carpenter is in the bag.

In the e-mails, Stubblefield told faculty Carpenter was expected to be confirmed June 7, and Bates wrote to thank faculty for their participation in the arduous search .

"We are excited about working with Dr. Carpenter to meet the opportunities and challenges facing the district and we look forward to an even brighter future," Bates wrote. "As Dr. Pickelman (the outgoing chancellor) has recently stated, 'The best is yet to come.' "

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