Regents vote to end outside investigation into chancellor
The Board of Regents for the Nevada System of Higher Education voted 9-3 Thursday to formally end an outside investigation into a hostile workplace complaint lodged last year by Chancellor Melody Rose against two top regents.
The move elevates those regents, Cathy McAdoo and Patrick Carter, back to their positions as chair and vice chair, after the pair temporarily stepped down from their leadership positions in November, at the time tying the move explicitly to the end of the outside law firm's investigation.
Thursday’s vote marks the latest turn in the now four-month-long probe into the chancellor’s allegations, and came despite an unexpected last-minute recommendation from internal legal counsel that the seven regents named in the complaint — a majority of the board — should abstain from the vote amid broader concerns over possible ethics violations.
None of those regents complied with that recommendation, with some arguing in part that simply being named in the report did not represent a significant conflict of interest under state law.
“That seven of us would have to abstain because we're named in the complaint, I just find incredible.” Regent Jason Geddes said during the meeting. “I don’t know if you can just name people in complaints, and they’re no longer allowed to vote on issues without there being any fact or definition of what’s going on there.”
Still, in explaining her recommendation to the board on Thursday, NSHE Chief Deputy Counsel Yvonne Nevarez-Goodson — also the former executive director of the state ethics commission — said the mere existence of an investigation created a conflict, especially considering possible litigation that may stem from the investigation.
Only four regents opposed Thursday’s motion, including Chair Pro Tempore Carol Del Carlo, Vice Chair Pro Tempore Amy Carvalho, and regents Donald McMichael and John T. Moran. However, Moran — who called in to the meeting remotely — dropped from the call before the vote and was officially recorded as not-present.
Those regents broadly characterized the motion to approve as a move to continue business as usual, despite the events of the last four months.
“I want to move forward, too, but the vote to approve for me is going back to the status quo,” Del Carlo said. “And that was and that wasn't working before for us and it's not addressing any of the underlying issues that got us here.”
Thursday’s meeting otherwise avoided any mention of the content of the report, and it remains unclear how the situation with the chancellor may proceed in the weeks to come.
In the original complaint filed last October, Rose alleged then-Board Chair McAdoo and Vice Chair Carter had discriminated against her based on her sex, and sought to minimize her effectiveness as chancellor ahead of an alleged bid to oust her from the system.
Later additions to that complaint raised new allegations of retaliation against five additional regents, with claims ranging in severity.
Those allegations include an incident at a closed-door meeting in December in which one regent, Byron Brooks, had tried to intimidate her — allegations Brooks later denied and called “unwarranted.” The report ultimately determined the allegations did not constitute evidence of a sex-based hostile work environment.
But it also includes more minor incidents, including one in which Regent Jason Geddes presided over the meeting electing temporary leadership without informing the chancellor; another in which Regent Joseph Arrascada questioned a planned trip to Arizona by the chancellor; another in which Regent Patrick Boylan repeatedly questioned remarks the chancellor made during her State of the System address; and another in which three regents, Geddes, Arrascada, and Perkins, requested that the issue of a special counsel for the board of regents be added to a future agenda.
An investigative report released internally to regents this month found “insufficient evidence” that any of the allegations constituted sex discrimination or harassment, though it also found that some behavior from regents outlined in the complaint may yet constitute ethical violations. The allegations of retaliation were deemed to not have sufficient evidence as well.
In recent days, the chancellor’s allies have publicly gone on the defensive. In a letter to the state ethics board Wednesday, four major business groups and the AFL-CIO — all groups that backed 2020’s Ballot Question 1 and have been critical of regents in the past — argued that the outside investigation creates new grounds for a separate ethics investigation.
And in a surprise letter to regents on Wednesday, Gov. Steve Sisolak threw his weight behind the chancellor, calling her “a proven partner and leader.”
“I implore you to put students, faculty and staff at the center of your decision-making and do so by working closely with Chancellor Rose and the entire NSHE team,” Sisolak wrote. “Your leadership, or lack thereof, could very well shape the future of our state.”
In a statement made to the board during public comment, the chancellor’s personal attorney, Jennifer Hostetler, said she was “disappointed” by the investigative report.
“Chancellor Rose simply wants to be able to do her job,” Hostetler said. “She remains committed to focusing on Nevada’s students and taking steps to improving transparency, accountability and student outcomes in the Nevada System of Higher Education. I hope she will be given the opportunity to do so.”