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UNR President Johnson to step down, move to faculty role

University of Nevada, Reno president Marc Johnson speaking during the school's 2017 graduation ceremony. Photo courtesy University of Nevada, Reno.

UNR President Marc Johnson announced Thursday he would step down from his role in the top job effective June 2020 to transition to a role as a professor within the university’s economics department. 

“There comes a time for all who serve in this role to decide when is the most appropriate time for the University to find a new steward,” Johnson said in a statement. “Now is that time. The people of our University have achieved at historic and record-setting levels in practically every area of the life of our institution. It is with profound and everlasting gratitude to our people that I make this decision.”

Appointed in 2012, Johnson’s early tenure was marked by the lingering effects of the Great Recession, which forced deep, wide-ranging cuts across the state’s higher education system. Those rocky years were followed, however, by a half-decade of sustained growth for UNR, which saw booming enrollment, a bevy of new construction and — for the first time — a designation as an “R1” institution by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. 

During the same span, the school has grappled with an intersection between hate speech and free speech. UNR student Peter Cvjetanovic was made a household face after a picture of him chanting during the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia went viral, and a number of swastikas have made appearances across campus in the years since, in addition to the appearance this year of flyers promoting a white nationalist organization. 

Johnson’s departure as president leaves yet another vacancy within Nevada System of Higher Education’s top jobs. UNLV has been without a permanent president since 2018 following an acrimonious split between regents and former president Len Jessup, and NSHE Chancellor Thom Reilly announced this summer he would not seek to renew his contract after August 2020. 

Amid those shakeups at the top, questions remain over the outcome of AJR5, a constitutional amendment headed to the ballot in 2020 that would place the Board of Regents under the purview of the Legislature. 

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