Who works for whom?

Joe Enge

Chancellor Jim Rogers’ response to a recent evaluation from Regent Ron Knecht suggests a continuing confusion over an important issue: whether the chancellor works for the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents, or whether it works for him.

An honest reading of the evaluation – with Rogers’ history as chancellor in mind – leads to the conclusion that Knecht has reasonably, rationally and fairly met his obligations to his constituents to reestablish the Board of Regents’ proper authority over a very powerful and wealthy chancellor.

Rogers has claimed repeatedly through the media that Knecht called him a “crook,” but nothing Knecht has said can even remotely be construed that way. Rather, Knecht’s evaluation expressly raises concerns over problems, well documented, regarding the chancellor’s failure to carry out important duties and promises – an altogether different charge, and a legitimate one at that.

As Knecht’s evaluation states: “Mr. Rogers is said to have a history of promising and advertising higher levels of contribution than he actually makes, and more particularly of spreading his contributions over time so that he can leverage on a continuing basis more terms, conditions and concessions than those to which the recipients originally committed.”

Rogers should disclose in full his contributions to higher education in Nevada so people can judge for themselves the accuracy of this statement. After all, the reason Rogers was hired as chancellor was his supposed ability to increase his own contributions while raising money from other wealthy people (he had neither academic nor public administration credentials relevant to leading Nevada’s higher education system). If the chancellor is unable to meet those obligations, surely the public deserves to know.

Rogers’ disproportionate reaction, in concert with his withdrawal of donations (current and future), would seem to confirm the very charges Knecht made in June. At the time, notably, Knecht did not publicly read the evaluation into the minutes, but merely had it added. Given that he had sought to keep that matter as a subject merely for the board, it is revealing that Rogers would react two months later in a way that draws massive attention to the evaluation. Additionally, in publicly pulling his own donations, the chancellor has undermined his ability to ask others to help the system.

The chief problems regarding the chancellor, which have serious implications for public policy, always have been and will remain: 1) his conflicts of interest (as chancellor, donor and political activist); 2) his apparent inability to coordinate and cooperate with regents and recognize that he works for them; and 3) his inappropriate micromanaging of the eight NSHE institutions.

Meanwhile, regents such as Knecht are representing entirely justifiable public interests in Nevada’s publicly funded system. They should refuse to allow themselves to be intimated by a powerful chancellor who seems to have the power-structure dynamics backwards.

Joe Enge is education policy analyst at the Nevada Policy Research Institute.