In hostile workplace memo, Chancellor Melody Rose details incidents that made her feel ‘undermined’ by two regents
In an extraordinary 21-page rebuke of the top two members of the Board of Regents, Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Melody Rose outlined an alleged pattern of hostility ultimately designed, she said, to force her from her position as the system’s top administrator.
That document, obtained Wednesday by The Nevada Independent, alleges that Board Chair Cathy McAdoo and Vice Chair Patrick Carter engaged in a pattern of “abuse” and “harassing” behavior since their selection to the board’s leadership positions in June.
In the time since, Rose alleges that such incidents have snowballed as McAdoo and Carter have sought to minimize her influence, undermine her ability to do her job and create a pretense for her dismissal.
Neither McAdoo nor Carter initially responded to a request for comment. More than one week later, on Oct. 15, the pair released a joint statement that said the Board of Regents "takes all complaints seriously" and that the board remains committed to a "thorough investigation."
However, the statement also said regents "cannot offer any further comment" while the investigation continues.
A spokesperson for the chancellor declined to comment, saying NSHE “does not comment on personnel matters.”
The hostile work environment complaint — sent to NSHE’s general counsel — lays out a series of alleged incidents that include gender discrimination, in addition to harassment based on the “personal political persuasions of our Board officers (McAdoo and Carter).”
In the second paragraph of her lengthy complaint, Rose points out that she is paid substantially less than the male presidents leading UNR and UNLV. She earns $437,000, while UNR President Brian Sandoval and UNLV President Keith Whitfield make $500,000.
“Upon my arrival I immediately heard stories about NSHE’s persistent disregard for female employees,” Rose wrote. “System Administration colleagues, presidents, reporters and community members warned me about a pervasive sexist culture and wanted both to alert me to this ‘Old Boys Club’ environment and to ask for my assistance is [sic] changing it.”
But the incidents alleged and detailed by Rose span months and occurred during several high-profile decisions made by the Board of Regents, Rose in her role as chancellor, and the system as a whole through that time.
It is unclear how Rose’s complaint may be resolved, but multiple sources, who requested anonymity in order to share details of the conversations in question, confirmed to The Nevada Independent this week that an outside firm, Kamer Zucker Abbott, has been retained by NSHE to lead an independent investigation.
Sources also confirmed that the complaint has been sent to the attorney general’s office, as it involves a pair of constitutional officers in the two named regents. However, it remains unclear if the attorney general will investigate separately.
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, John Sadler, later confirmed in a statement Thursday that a copy of the complaint had been received, but also that a formal complaint had not been filed with the office. Sadler declined to comment on the possibility of a future investigation, however, "to protect the integrity of any potential investigation."
‘Erratic, hostile and secretive decision-making’ on COVID measures
Rose devotes a substantive chunk of her complaint to detailing incidents that allegedly happened while regents were considering COVID mitigation efforts in the summer.
One incident occurred in May, as Rose’s office published a press release instructing students to “prepare” for the possibility of a vaccine mandate, as had been implemented in several other major higher-education systems at that time.
The release — which Rose said was not properly vetted and suffered from the effects of “staffing gaps” in the communications department — “went out with stronger language” than she intended.
Like most collegiate systems nationwide, NSHE had begun to pull back on restrictions as the spring semester ended and the summer began, anticipating — and witnessing — rapidly improving conditions with widespread availability of highly effective COVID vaccines. Those expectations culminated in a full, maskless in-person return to campus facilities on July 1.
But Rose wrote, by July 23, the system’s internal COVID task force had recommended a new mask requirement for all NSHE campuses, and that a week prior, an institution president (anonymized in the document as President #3) had requested such a mandate. Rose said she spoke with McAdoo and the pair agreed the issue “needed board input and that it should be system-wide.”
Three days later, when the board met for an officer’s meeting on July 26, Rose said McAdoo had reversed her position. McAdoo allegedly said that the regents had “no place” deciding COVID policy, deferring instead to Gov. Steve Sisolak (who, on the day after, mandated masks on a county level based on then-new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria).
“I left this meeting with no direction and very confused about the chair’s position,” Rose wrote. “Did she want the [regents] to be involved in COVID policy? Should I delegate to campuses? How do I provide meaningful and timely advice to the campuses? This meeting was the beginning of what would become erratic, hostile and secretive decision-making related to COVID policy.”
Rose alleges these issues continued when the possibility of vaccine mandates, both for students and for NSHE employees, emerged in early August.
Those early weeks of August marked a particularly tumultuous period for the system’s pandemic management policy, as it sought to clarify publicly if or how such mandates might materialize.
System General Counsel Joe Reynolds then issued a legal opinion on Aug. 2 asserting that it was the Board of Health’s legal prerogative to issue a mandate under existing Nevada law — not the Board of Regents’.
Rose wrote that one day later, she received a request from the governor’s office to meet and discuss “[Board of Health] interest in a mandatory student vaccine.” They met that evening.
That same day, McAdoo called a member of Rose’s cabinet to complain, among other things, that the chancellor was involved in “some illusive plan that I supposedly had with the governor regarding student vaccines (false), and that she ‘wants nothing to do with it.’”
A day later, on Aug. 4, McAdoo allegedly called a cabinet member and “told them ‘God gave her a plan’ for resolving the student vaccine issue," before adding that that information should be “kept confidential.”
“Since then, on COVID: the chairwoman has been wildly inconsistent, indecisive, and attempting to shift blame for inaction to me and my team, at times calling me obstructionist,” Rose wrote. “She also routinely appears to make her decisions based on direction from God.”
‘A shocking series of secret decisions’
When UNR announced this summer that it intended to acquire the Tahoe campus of the private Sierra Nevada University, it came as something of a shock — a major financial and physical gift to the state’s oldest university that could put UNR functionally on the shores of Lake Tahoe.
But, according to Rose, the element of surprise wasn’t only intentional on the part of UNR, which was bound to secrecy during the earliest phases of negotiations with SNU. Rose alleges McAdoo and Carter also purposely kept it under wraps.
Rose described UNR’s acquisition of SNU as “a shocking series of secret decisions and abuses of power that ultimately undermined my authority … with the UNR leadership and the board as a whole.”
In her timeline of events, Rose said she was told by Sandoval about the possibility of the acquisition on June 7. By the week of June 30th, however, Rose alleges that McAdoo and Carter sought to withhold information surrounding the deal from both Rose and NSHE Chief General Counsel Joe Reynolds on the advice of a former regent, Rick Trachok, who was representing SNU.
Rose further alleges that Trachok told McAdoo and Carter to withhold information because both she and Reynolds had become “obstructionist,” and that would “slow things down” — both allegations Rose denies. Instead, she says her efforts to obtain information about the deal before its public release came as “due diligence to serve our regents in their role as fiduciary.”
Trachok did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
On July 7, UNR officially announced the possibility of the deal in a press release, which came as a surprise to Rose, all other NSHE presidents and members of the cabinet.
“In the UNR/SNU process I had an early window into the new chair’s modus operandi: to give the campus permission to circumvent protocols and best practices which ultimately had the impact of undermining my rightful role,” Rose wrote.
But Rose did not fault Sandoval, whom she said likely “felt on firm footing” with advice from the current and former chairs of the Board of Regents.
“Sadly, I do not think he received sound advice, but that is in no way his fault.”
‘It felt like an assault on my professional integrity’
Rose also referenced a number of incidents that she said further undermined, embarrassed or sought to minimize her.
Carter allegedly chastised Rose in public settings or via email for a lack of knowledge on the boundaries and uses of “shared governance,” or the involvement of all invested groups, such as faculty and staff, in top-level decisions — despite Rose’s three-decade career in higher education, including years as faculty.
Rose described one such email as “shocking,” and that “it felt like an assault on my professional integrity and identity.”
Another incident involved a planned welcome reception for the then-incoming president of Nevada State College, DeRionne Pollard, the first permanently-appointed Black woman to lead an NSHE institution.
The reception was coordinated by Berna Rhodes-Ford, the general counsel for NSC and the wife of Attorney General Aaron Ford.
“Both officers voiced outrage, suggesting the effort was racist,” Rose wrote. “‘How would it look if the white community held a reception for a white president?!’ Chair McAdoo insisted.”
Rose alleges that McAdoo and Carter circumvented her and the then-acting president of NSC to confront Rhodes-Ford about the event.
“This effort was embarrassing,” she wrote. “Not only was the accusation of exclusion and impropriety abusive, tone-deaf and baseless, but it was yet another effort to undermine my authority on the campuses and by taking matters into their own hands and confronting staff three levels down without my knowledge.”
Rose’s allegations come as the latest internal dispute to rock a system historically plagued by personnel issues at the top of the chain.
In 2018, regents engaged in a lengthy dispute with then-UNLV President Len Jessup over his handling of donor money for the nascent UNLV Medical School. An outside review of the agreements involved ultimately found Jessup’s conduct “extremely troubling,” and he would leave the system for California later that year.
And in 2016, the system was rocked by revelations that then-Chancellor Dan Klaich had played a key role in allegedly misleading legislators during the high-stakes renegotiation of the system’s byzantine funding formula in 2011. Though Klaich denied wrongdoing, he resigned shortly after the story was made public.
These personnel issues, among a range of others, have centered in a broader political debate about the Board of Regents itself and whether it should continue to hold a place in the state Constitution.
A political movement to undo that special status — spearheaded by legislators, key donors and individuals alike — ultimately failed in 2020 as Ballot Question 1, rejected by voters by just .3 percentage points.
Another effort by lawmakers to pull regents from the Constitution was revived in 2021, though it remains unclear how these new allegations from Rose may play into the political debate over the regents’ future.
Updated, 10/7/21 at 10:00 a.m. — This story was updated to include a statement from a spokesperson from the attorney general's office.
Updated, 10/15/21 at 12:05 p.m. — This story was updated to include a statement issued by McAdoo and Carter declining to comment further while the investigation continues.