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Regents name Patty Charlton as interim higher education chancellor, open new search

Charlton emerged as a last-minute chancellor pick after an unnamed candidate backed out of a deal hours before the search was set to close.
Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
Higher Education
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The Board of Regents governing the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) voted unanimously on Tuesday to appoint former College of Southern Nevada (CSN) administrator Patty Charlton as the system’s interim chancellor, a stopgap move installing Charlton as the system’s fourth chancellor in the last three years.

Tuesday’s vote also authorized the start of a search for a new permanent chancellor — the top administrator for the state’s higher education system — to replace Charlton, but only after regents meet again to outline precisely what qualifications they will prioritize and how the search will be conducted. 

For much of this month, Charlton had served as the system’s officer-in-charge — a title normally used to cover for a chancellor’s temporary absence on vacation or other leave. It was used this time, however, to plug unexpected holes: the planned departure of Acting Chancellor Dale Erquiaga in early August and the surprise rejection of another permanent chancellor candidate in June. 

Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Interim Chancellor Patty Charlton. Courtesy/NSHE
Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Interim Chancellor Patty Charlton. Courtesy/NSHE

Tuesday’s appointment of Charlton to the interim role also came as another kind of emergency brake. 

In a presentation to the full board Tuesday, Regents Chair Byron Brooks revealed that an unnamed candidate removed themselves from consideration just nine hours before a deadline last week to bring forth a new candidate name for the interim chancellor role. 

“I really want to be clear that at no time during any of this did [Charlton] say, ‘Hey, you know what chair, I'm really interested in that position as interim chancellor,” Brooks said. “Those conversations didn't take place. In fact, I'm very confident in knowing that [Charlton] was not looking at this position, but possibly something else.”

Charlton’s appointment will run from Sept. 4 until the end of the new search for a permanent chancellor, with an annual base salary of more than $378,000, an $8,000 car allowance and $12,000 housing allowance — the minimum level afforded under the system’s salary schedule. 

Prior to her appointment as officer-in-charge earlier this month, Charlton entered the system office earlier this year as an acting vice president for academic and student affairs and community colleges. Before that, she held various administrative posts at CSN, where she worked since 1995.

Speaking to the board after her appointment, Charlton called the appointment “humbling.”

“I take this role very seriously,” Charlton said. “We have amazing institutions, fantastic presidents — you have over 100,000 students that are in our institutions today. We owe all that we can do to make this the best experience for them.” 

What comes next

The move ends a summer of uncertainty for the regents, after the board voted to reject the hiring of former Coca-Cola executive and Bethune-Cookman University Interim President Lawrence Drake as NSHE’s permanent chancellor in June. 

Though Drake was the preferred choice of an internal regents search committee, an advisory panel of faculty, administrators and students raised concerns over Drake’s experience with research universities and Nevada’s idiosyncratic higher education structure. 

Those concerns eventually sank Drake’s nomination ahead of a full vote by the 13-member Board of Regents. But even as regents authorized the start of a new search for a permanent chancellor on Tuesday, it comes as the board acknowledged the lack of a consensus over what kind of chancellor the board should be pursuing at all — and how much they should be paid. 

“If we're looking at compensation, and we're trying to figure out which way we want to move because we're trying to attract top-tier candidates, because that's what we'd like to have in the state of Nevada, we can't draft a number one or a number two player if our salary ranges aren't designed to support a top-10 pick,” Brooks said during his presentation on how the Charlton pick emerged. 

Charlton faces a higher education system in flux. Two community college presidents, CSN’s Federico Zaragoza and Great Basin College’s Joyce Helens, will need to be replaced after their planned departures next summer. Earlier this year, lawmakers also authorized the first funding formula study in more than a decade, the first step in a process that could reshape how state money is spread across higher education institutions. 

Lawmakers and the Board of Regents also authorized historically large salary gains for higher education employees — but gains that are so large year-over-year, that top administrators have warned they could necessitate budget cuts next fiscal year. 

Since last year, the system’s central office has also seen a gradual brain drain as top administrators have departed. That includes the system’s Chief Financial Officer Andrew Clinger, who left earlier this summer for a post at UNR.

NSHE and the Board of Regents have also come under increasing legislative scrutiny.Earlier this year, lawmakers approved a bill to reduce the number of regents from 13 to nine and shorten their terms from six years to four by the 2030 election cycle, and sent a proposed constitutional amendment to the ballot next year that proposes removing the regents from the state constitution. If passed, that amendment could open the door to expansive changes to higher education governance, a move some lawmakers have already sought.

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