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December 25, 2014

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HIGHER EDUCATION:

Rogers’ foes could soon be regents

Governor could appoint defeated regent, state senator to board

Beyond the Sun

Regent Bret Whipple criticized Chancellor Jim Rogers at public meetings, on television and in interviews in the media, slamming Rogers for being too political, asking Rogers to stop advocating new taxes in Nevada to fund education, and, at one point, calling for Rogers’ resignation after the chancellor wrote Whipple a letter insulting another regent.

So Rogers was pleased last week that Whipple lost his bid for reelection.

But Rogers’ delight might be short-lived. Whipple might not have to leave the board that governs the state’s public higher education system. He said Monday he planned to ask Gov. Jim Gibbons to consider appointing him to another regent position.

Two seats will open on the Board of Regents in January. Regent Thalia Dondero ran for reelection unopposed but an 11th-hour ruling deemed her ineligible because of term limits. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, is leaving the board because he was elected to the Clark County Commission.

Making matters worse for Rogers, Republican Bob Beers, who lost his state Senate seat in last week’s election, is now also interested in being appointed to the Board of Regents.

Beers’ brand of fiscal conservatism is bound to lead to confrontations with Rogers if the 10-year member of the state Legislature makes it onto the board.

Beers has railed against higher education spending in his blog, suggesting that UNLV’s dental school could be privatized to save taxpayer money and criticizing six-figure pay for employees including UNLV’s vice president of diversity and inclusion, whose base salary is $162,760 this fiscal year.

In a July 16 entry, Beers said Rogers’ “impassioned advocacy for tax hikes that would devastate our families and households is wrong. It’s bad policy for Nevada.”

On a 13-member board, each regent has limited sway. Still, for taxpayers critical of big government, Beers or Whipple could serve as a check against the chancellor on a board that voted this summer to send Gibbons a request for a 10.5 percent budget increase after the governor asked all state agencies to provide plans for cutting 14.12 percent.

In some ways, Beers might fit right in with regents who have recently been looking to ferret out waste, by cutting public buffet lunches at regent meetings, for example. And at a time when schools are laying off and buying out employees, Beers’ strong fiscal discipline might be welcome on the board.

An appointment of Whipple or Beers — both of whom were just rejected by voters` — would, however, be controversial, to say the least. Even some Republican leaders in Nevada are saying voters sent a clear message on Nov. 4 that the days of extreme fiscal conservatism in Nevada are over.

Josh Hicks, Gibbons’ chief of staff, said Monday there have been “very preliminary discussions” about potential appointees to the Board of Regents. Asked whether Beers or Whipple were in the running, he said, “I have seen those names in the press” but declined to say whether they were under consideration.

“We’re looking for qualified applicants,” Hicks said. But he noted the appointments don’t have to be made until the offices become vacant.

Rogers and Mike Wixom, the Regents chairman, met with the governor Monday but Rogers, Wixom and the governor’s spokesman all said the discussion did not include appointments to the board.

The thought of having Whipple back or adding Beers to the mix dismays Rogers, who plans to step down as chancellor in June.

“I would not be happy about that at all,” he said. “I think they’re both negative people. I think they’re very destructive. I don’t think either one has ever created anything, and at the moment we need some very imaginative, creative, positive thought on the board.”

Of Beers, Rogers added, “I just know that he just finds fault with everything in the (higher education) system.”

Beers, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UNLV, said he supports higher education but wants to ensure that colleges operate efficiently.

Upon hearing Rogers’ comments, Beers said if he’s appointed, “I look forward to working with the chancellor and rooting out inefficiencies.”

For Whipple, who last year held a dessert fundraiser in his office for Gibbons’ legal defense fund, Rogers had the following words last November: “I think that from time to time Bret forgets that he represents the system and not the governor.”

The comment came after Whipple sent a note to Gibbons expressing disappointment with the tone and content of a letter Rogers had sent the governor outlining the chancellor’s refusal to plan budget cuts.

Whipple, for his part, said though he agrees with the principle that, typically, “you don’t appoint individuals back to the same seat they just lost,” he wants to stay on the board in part to continue overseeing an overhaul of college computing systems statewide, a project that, over the years, is expected to cost $100 million.

And, technically, Whipple would not be getting appointed to the seat he just lost. He would have to move to be eligible to take over Dondero or Sisolak’s seat, because each regent represents a geographic district.

Sun Capital Bureau Chief Cy Ryan contributed to this story.

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