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Board of Regents taps replacement for employee at center of ‘child-speak’ controversy

Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
EducationState Government
regents meeting

At a special meeting Friday, regents unanimously approved the appointment of Deputy Chief of Staff Keri Nikolajewski to the post of interim chief of staff, effectively replacing recently retired Chief of Staff Dean Gould. 

Gould, who drew criticism last summer after he told a regent she was using “child-speak,” had apparently made his intentions to retire clear as of December of last year, according to a statement from NSHE provided to This Is Reno last month.

Nikolajewski first joined the system as an administrative assistant at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension in 2002, and has worked in varying capacities for the system in the years since. 

Her contract would provide a base salary of $150,000 for one year and includes a clause that would allow regents to either establish a search committee for a permanent chief of staff or appoint her as a permanent chief of staff at any time. 

Though regents generally praised Nikolajewski’s experience in the system, Regent Laura Perkins questioned the rationale behind her proposed salary and whether or not it should stand for all future chiefs of staff. 

In response, Doubrava said the number arose as a “midpoint” for the salary range for administrative faculty — a wide range running from roughly $96,000 to more than $225,000 annually — and that the number was agreed upon with the help of system human resources director Sherry Olson. Olson, however, did not speak to the process used to decide the salary and regents voted to approve the contract shortly thereafter. 

In a statement, system spokesperson Francis McCabe confirmed to The Nevada Independent that Gould retired at the end of 2020, but did not provide a reason for his retirement.

An exchange between Gould and former Regent Lisa Levine in August drew a social media firestorm amid another contentious debate over the proposed adoption of controversial federal changes to Title IX. As that debate drew to a close, Gould interrupted Levine amid a disagreement over parliamentary procedure and said: “I don’t want to man-speak, but I will have to if you continue to child-speak so please stop.”

The comment was shared widely on Twitter, where a number of Democratic politicians — including Gov. Steve Sisolak, who appointed Levine to the Board of Regents early last year — called on Gould to apologize. 

Gould later doubled down and released a statement charging that his remark was a reference to another regents’ meeting in July, in which Levine had accused him of “mansplaining” the system’s new business procedures to her. 

Gould did not appear at any subsequent regents meeting through the remainder of 2020, and Board Chair Mark Doubrava later oversaw the hiring and approval of an outside attorney to investigate both meeting incidents. 

That investigation was resolved late last month, though few new details were released as a result. Instead, Doubrava released a statement noting that the meetings had fallen below “applicable rules of decorum and treating all who participate with respect,” and that board staff had been directed to identify possible changes. 

However, Doubrava’s statement did not make clear what possible deficiencies were identified by outside counsel, nor has the board since agendized any changes to its meeting structures. 

Updated, 1/14/2021 at 10:13 a.m. - This story was updated to reflect original reporting from This Is Reno in December, 2020 that Dean Gould intended to retire by the end of the year.

Updated, 1/15/2021 at 4:20 p.m. - This story was updated to include new details of the contract of Interim Chief of Staff Keri Nikolajewski and the approval of that contract by regents on Friday.

Updated, 1/16/2021 at 1:58 p.m. - This story was updated to include a statement from NSHE spokesperson Francis McCabe on Chief of Staff Dean Gould's retirement.


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