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STEVE SEBELIUS: South should give Dale a chance

Updated June 20, 2022 - 1:00 pm

Nevada has seen more than its share of anointment appointments, many of which are contrary to good public policy.

In fact, it’s almost a state tradition.

That’s how some saw the recent appointment of Dale Erquiaga as acting chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education.

A group including the Vegas Chamber, Latin Chamber, Asian Chamber, Urban Chamber, the Clark County Education Association, the Engelstad Foundation and the Council for a Better Nevada wrote to regents, urging a delay in the vote.

“Hiring a qualified candidate for the position of chancellor is therefore critical to student success and academic achievement, workforce development and economic diversification and the prosperity of Nevada families,” the letter reads.

That’s quite a lot to put on a single person. Is anyone qualified for that job?

The letter continues: “However, this process has been disregarded and neglected to the detriment of our higher education community, and, most importantly, of all our students. Robust community engagement is essential to the selection for (sic) any candidate.”

The letter also says that no students, faculty, staff or “philanthropic supporters” were asked for their views. (In fact, regent Chairwoman Cathy McAdoo says she met with university presidents, the council of faculty senate chairs and system staffers before advancing Erquiaga’s name.)

But there were no “philanthropic supporters,” and that’s the one that really stings, right?

And it’s not like the signatories to the letter have any problem with Erquiaga personally, although the letter could be read that way. It’s the process, you see. (Council for a Better Nevada Executive Director Maureen Shafer even called Erquiaga “reasonably competent” in the Review-Journal, a standard she herself may one day achieve.)

C’mon, people. You all have lived in Nevada long enough to know that ram-and-jam anointments to top jobs is the process. And it’s not like McAdoo signed a secret agreement with “philanthropic supporters” to condition future donations on keeping her job. Surely that would raise questions about “the process.”

Back to Erquiaga: He’s actually quite experienced. Not only was he chosen in January to take over the Kenny Guinn Center for Policy Priorities, he’s also been president of the national organization Communities in Schools. He worked for Gov. Brian Sandoval as chief strategy officer, after first overseeing Nevada’s K-12 system as state superintendent of public instruction for two years. He’s lobbied on behalf of the Clark County School District and he worked at advertising and political powerhouse R&R Advertising as a vice president and managing director. Oh, and he was also chief deputy secretary of state in Nevada, where his family has lived for generations.

So what’s not to like?

Oh, that’s right: He’s a northerner. He grew up — alongside Sandoval, a lifelong friend — in Fallon. He graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno. And the perception, if not the reality, is that the university system has always favored its first school over the rebellious UNLV.

The fact that “philanthropic supporters” don’t directly control UNLV is a point of severe contention, but the state constitution is clear: The university system is to be controlled by the Board of Regents, and the regents have chosen to act through a chancellor who oversees presidents and campuses. Rather than effect change by — the horror! — running for regent, they’d prefer to let money do the controlling, which, let’s be honest, is also part of the vaunted process in Nevada.

It may be heresy for a southerner to say this, but who cares if Erquiaga is a northerner? He’s lived and worked in the southern part of the state, he knows the state budget, the legislative process and the K-12 system that feeds students into community colleges and universities here. And anyone who knows Erquiaga knows he’s a smart, savvy leader who can run complex organizations while managing relationships.

The university system has seen its share of chancellors, good and bad. It may be that the traditional Nevada anointment process — translucent though it may have been — has worked out well for both the institution and the people it serves, notwithstanding the ruffled feathers. In any case, Erquiaga has said he will serve only as an acting chancellor, helping the system through the next legislative session, while the search continues for an insane person — sorry, make that qualified candidate — to take the job full time.

In the meantime, give Erquiaga a chance. This might be one of those rare instances where the Nevada way and the right thing coincide.

A previous version of this column incorrectly reported Erquiaga’s new title with the university system. He was appointed acting chancellor.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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