LAS VEGAS - At the urging of interim Chancellor Jim Rogers, the Board of Regents has granted the chancellor the right to fire university and college presidents.
But the board's Friday approval came with a last-minute amendment giving presidents the right to appeal any termination.
Rogers hailed the vote, calling it a necessity to ensure collaboration among institutions and to prevent presidents from circumventing board policies.
The job is a figurehead position without the power, said Rogers, a Las Vegas communications mogul who hopes his replacement can be found by June. Previously, only the board could fire the system's eight presidents.
"That's one thing I pushed and pushed and pushed for," Rogers said. "I think it will make all the difference in the world in recruiting the next chancellor because without that right, the job has no substance."
But a consultant for a firm that recruits chief academic officers said the change will make it harder for Nevada to get qualified presidents.
What sets American universities apart from universities abroad are lay boards that have the power to hire and fire presidents, said Allan Ostar of the Washington, D.C.-based Academic Search Consultation Service.
"It runs counter to the way higher education has historically operated in this country," Ostar said. "I know of no other chancellor in the U.S. that has that kind of authority."
Regent Steve Sisolak, the only board member to vote against the policy, accused his colleagues of an "act of cowardice."
"We're looking for someone to do our dirty work and not allow the debate to go before the public," he told the board. "We need to have a board that will stand up and have the guts to say, 'Look, we don't think you're doing your job."'
Sisolak worried the chancellor's new authority would keep the public in the dark about a president's removal.
"Presumably, a president could be called into the chancellor's office and with the door closed, the president could be terminated," he said. "How does everybody else get to understand the reason?"
At the end of the appeals process, the public would have access to records on the decision, system attorneys said, but only if there is an appeal.
Regent Jill Derby said she couldn't vote for the change unless the appeals process was included. She called the new policy an important step in "symbolically" strengthening the chancellor's position.
Regent Howard Rosenberg said he voted for the amended version that allows presidents an appeal process despite his opposition to giving the chancellor the authority to fire them.
"I don't like it one bit," Rosenberg said. "It should be the board's decision and the board's responsibility."
Rogers defended the policy, saying it would not harm the state's ability to attract good candidates to serve as president.
"Once you put presidents under my direction, I can tell you this, he or she and I are going to have to get along," Rogers told regents. "When I find the person that you picked is not carrying out those policies that you set forth, there may be trouble."