By this afternoon, the University of Nevada, Reno, will most likely know who their next president will be. Ahead of the decision, the Nevada Sagebrush attended and recapped forums of all four presidential finalists.
CANDIDATE #1: BRIAN SANDOVAL
On the first day of presidential candidate forums, former Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval spoke to multiple forums, including forums focused on undergraduate students, graduate students, alumni and the campus community.
Sandoval was the 29th Governor of Nevada, 30th Attorney General of Nevada and a judge of the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. After serving as governor, he became the President of Global Gaming at MGM Resorts. He announced his resignation from the gaming industry giant to pursue the role as the university’s president.
Sandoval received his Bachelor’s from UNR in English in 1986. He later received his J.D. from Ohio State University.
During the forum focused on alumni and community issues, Sandoval discussed several topics with moderator Scott Walquist, President of the Nevada Alumni Council.
When answering questions about why he would be an ideal candidate for the presidency over the other finalists, Sandoval continually noted how being a native Nevadan and UNR alum would benefit him.
“I am familiar with the campus. I graduated from here and am familiar with the people,” he said.
Sandoval also called the position a “dream job” and one he would “look forward to everyday”.
When asked about his goals for the first 90 days, Sandoval listed safety, the budget and status as a few of his primary concerns.
Sandoval noted how he would hope to elevate and uphold the university’s reputation by maintaining the university’s R-1 status and joining the American Association of Universities.
Sandoval also touched on the university’s budget, noting that this would be a major challenge for him if he were selected.
“We’re in the midst of a budget crisis and there’s already been some devastating budget cuts associated with what’s been happening with the Nevada economy and it’s going to take an experienced hand who has familiarity with the state legislature, who has familiarity with the executive department with our federal affiliation … and that’s something I bring to the table,” Sandoval said.
As governor of Nevada, Sandoval said he had experience with higher education budgets, as he prepared four budgets closely with the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents.
Sandoval said he has met with the deans of every college, minus one, who he said he connected with over Zoom and email. He emphasized the importance of representing members of all of his constituencies.
“As part of my due diligence to this position, I met or communicated with every dean and listened to their priorities and what their strategic plans are for the campus and for their respective schools and colleges,” Sandoval said.
CANDIDATE #2: CHADEN DJALALI
University presidential candidate Chaden Djalali spoke to members of the campus community through various forums held virtually. Djalali focused on undergraduate and graduate student relations, alumni and community involvement.
According to the university’s presidential search page, the university began their search for presidential candidates in late January and accepted applications till Aug. 3.
Dijalai’s CV was dated Friday, July 31.
Prior to applying, he served as the provost and vice president of Ohio University.
Djalali served in the role less than two years, and stepped down in March. According to the Athens News the decision for Djalali to step down was a mutual agreement between OU’s current president and himself.
He currently works in the department of physics and astronomy at OU.
In the undergraduate and graduate student forum on Monday, Sept. 14, Djalali said his main goal would be to talk with students and student leaders about the change they would like to see.
“When I became dean of the college of liberal arts and sciences at the University of Iowa, I also had regular meetings with the students, both undergrad and graduate students,” he said. “And the idea was to listen to them. After all, we’re serving them.”
He said he would implement this by talking with student governments and creating strategies.
Djalali added he hopes to be a part of student clubs and organization meetings which focus on students who are disproportionately marginalized in higher education.
When asked specifically what he would like to change on campus he said, he needed to find out more about the institution.
“I need help from others to tell me what’s not working and not feeling bad by saying so,” he said.
When asked about Greek life relations on campus, Djalali said he was not familiar with the situations the university has had.
“I need to get more into the details of that because each university and each campus has its own history of interaction with the Greeks,” he said.
During the 2019 spring semester, six sororities on campus disaffiliated from the university. Later in the summer, multiple fraternities disaffiliated after many had already disaffiliated back in 2018.
According to the organizations, they had issues pertaining to the contracts the university requires affiliated Greek organizations to sign.
Additionally, in the fall 2018 semester, Tau Kappa Epsilon had a songbook that was discovered which depicted aspects of sexual assault, necrophilia and rape culture.
When asked about affordable housing for students, he suggested the university creates partnerships in the community to make housing affordable.
“I was contemplating, if I were to come here, lucky enough to come here, I also have to look for housing, but of course at my level I can afford it, it’s not the same thing,” he said. “It’s a serious problem. It was a problem in Iowa, and a problem — of course it will be here. I’m not that familiar, I have to look into it, but from what I’m reading, you know, Google moving, Tesla moving, the price of everything goes up, it’s a problem that we need to look at … Partnership with the private sector, university and private sector partnership, has been a mixed bag, as you know. In some places it has worked. In others it hasn’t. So we have to be careful but it needs to be explored.”
When asked how he would address racism on campus, he did not give any plan.
“And the question of racism is a very, very important one,” he said. “It’s a curse, it’s something that this country has had for a long time. It’s time to seriously do something about it. And the Covid came, and the social unrest because of the senseless, you know, death of people by violence that was not called for, has inflamed the whole country, rightfully, and underrepresented and minorities especially are coming out and saying, enough is enough. And as members of the majority, okay? I hate to use that word, but it is the truth, we need to acknowledge, we need to listen, and we need to seriously take this together.”
Djalali continuously said he wanted to talk and understand the issues students face in order to enact change.
CANDIDATE #3: JONATHAN KOPPELL
During the second day of interviews, Jonathan Koppell spoke to the campus community and alumni in various forums on Tuesday, Sept. 15, to address his goal and plans if selected as the next president.
Currently, Koppell serves as the dean of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions at Arizona State University. He received his A.B. in Government at Harvard College/ He later went on to receive his M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley.
Alumni and community members asked Koppell about what his first 90 days as president would look like. He said he would hold forums to talk with the campus community and Reno citizens to receive positive and negative feedback on the university.
“Well, I want to learn,” he said. “I want to be a sponge, and I want to know what’s going on. I want to hear all the good things, but I also want to hear what’s frustrating people. By the way, not just inside the university. Outside the university too.”
Koppell added he wants to expand on existing programs the university already had in his 90 days, in particular the university’s medical school.
When he was asked about his schooling and how the university’s educational level compared, he said it was not the same. He added his job as president is to grow the university and build to get the university to a higher caliber.
Koppell added his experience and education helps him understand the structures needed to lead a land grant and research institution.
“I don’t think that the goal should be to replicate any of those institutions,” he said. “So I think there’s an opportunity for UNR to build something quite different … One of the biggest differences between UNR and all of those institutions that I have had — I’ve been associated with, none of those are land grant institutions.”
Koppell said a goal would be to create an international campus, similar to one created by ASUN in China, in order to diversify the university’s income.
“That college has also been an absolutely essential source of revenue to keep Watts healthy in this challenging time, and it diversified our revenue stream when other universities are struggling … ,” Koppell said. “My college in China is not affected because my students are in China, and they’re earning their ASU degree in China. And the way we structured that partnership — I won’t get into the weeds right now — The revenue continues to flow directly to my college. This is the way universities will succeed in the years ahead by thinking about how to diversify their revenue stream.”
He added athletics was a key part to keeping university culture alive. Additionally, he hopes to create a culture where athletes are well supported academically in order to graduate on time.
“So, first of all, I think athletics is important because it reflects the fullness of human — the possibilities of human excellence,” he said. “So if we think it’s important to support people who want to be excellent in the classroom or people who want to be excellent on the stage, people who want to be excellent artists or writers or musicians, we should also support excellence in athletic endeavors. That’s an important part of who we are. And we should be creating an environment where every student can achieve their highest in that form of human endeavor just as we are trying to create venues for that opportunity elsewhere.”
Koppell continuously emphasized that students now have an opportunity to grow in academia and at the university as a research institution amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
CANDIDATE #4: Jennifer Cowley
On the second day of interviews, Jennifer Cowley spoke to multiple forums, including forums focused on undergraduate students, graduate students, alumni and the campus community.
Cowley currently works as Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at the University of North Texas. She also previously served as Vice Provost for Capital Planning and Regional Campuses within the Office of Academic Affairs at Ohio State University. Other places of employment include: Texas A&M, City of Amarillo, Texas and Glenn College of Public Affairs.
Cowley obtained her bachlors of Political Science at Texas A&M along with her Master’s in Urban Planning and Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Science. She obtained a Master’s in Public Administration and an MS in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Northern Texas.
Cowley wanted UNR to be nationally known as an inclusive place. At her current place of employment, University of North Texas, Cowley helped conduct a climate survey to gauge how the students felt on campus. Through its data, Cowley created a mandatory diversity and inclusion program for incoming students. She said she is committed to fostering an inclusive campus.
“UNR has a critical responsibility to create an outstanding community for our students,” Cowley said. “Everyone has a critical role to play. We have a responsibility to make this campus inclusive.”
Cowley also hopes to help foster UNR into a Hispanic Serving Institution. The Department of Education defines a Hispanic Serving Institution as an eligible institution with an undergraduate enrollment of at least 25% Hispanic students at the end of the award year immediately preceding the date of application.
Cowley said she would like to appear more visible on campus. She said she thinks it is great that student government is divided by undergraduate and graduate means, since both types of students may have different needs.
“We know the number one issue why students are leaving school is because of finances,” Cowley said.
Cowley wants better financial aid availability to help students continue their education. She also mentioned how she wants to learn more about mental health within student’s at UNR and how to improve it. She would like to expand the graduate student and international student programs. She mentioned how it is also important to attract Nevadans at UNR so they may contribute to the state once they graduate.
Cowley would also like to expand into the community. She said she feels UNR’s facilities are an asset. Some examples she outlined include having community events on campus and the option to rent out of the Joe Crowley Student Union ballrooms for different occasions. Cowley would also like to move campus towards the downtown to stimulate the area.
At UNT, Cowley said they tried to build a new gateway area. The university bought small businesses near the opening and gave them opportunities to come onto campus so they could continue to operate. Although she would like to expand the university, she said she wants to be sensitive to these areas so the university is best serving these communities.
President Marc Johnson said the university obtained architects who are currently working on the design of three buildings within the Gateway Precinct at UNR: a parking garage, a College of Business building and a life science laboratory building.
The Reno-Gazette Journal reported in June that the $33 million parking garage will begin construction in a few months.
Cowley believes it is critically important to teach students to be civically active, understand different perspectives and be open to hearing those messages. She said informed views are also important. She wants to teach students, faculty and staff about free speech.
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