The board of the UNR Chapter of the Nevada Faculty Alliance expresses concern about the integrity of hiring processes for leadership positions at UNR. In the past week, a blog post raised concerns about the publication record of Dean Erick Jones of Engineering and led to additional coverage in the Sagebrush, This Is Reno, and Retraction Watch. While we believe that Dean Jones deserves due process in the investigation of these allegations, as would any faculty member, we have heard concerns from faculty across campus about his hiring process, as well as the hiring processes for various executive-level leaders. Given that UNR has seen record turnover in dean and vice president positions since 2020, with additional searches ongoing, ensuring full consideration of stakeholder input in these processes is paramount for hiring the strongest candidates who have the qualities to lead effectively while also being respected as leaders in their fields.
It has come to our attention that the processes set in place by college and university bylaws are not always being followed in leadership searches. Whereas the UNR Bylaws and University Administrative Manual have clear requirements for Vice President searches with faculty representation, we have seen at least two Vice Presidents (the VP, Governmental Relations and Community Engagement, and VP, Legal Affairs) appointed into their positions without a search, and the new Vice President for Information Technology was appointed after a search for a Vice Provost for Information Technology. The following table, based on data gathered via NFA public records requests, documents the searches and appointments of Vice Presidents by President Sandoval. In one case (VP, Governmental Relations and Community Engagement), there is no record of the required notice of appointment to the Board of Regents.
In multiple instances, the hiring of leaders has been perceived as being decided by who they know, rather than the qualities they bring to the positions. NFA has expressed these concerns in at least one previous letter sent to President Sandoval, to which NFA received no response. In the case of the search for the Engineering Dean in 2022, using the outside search firm AcademicSearch, five finalists were brought to campus, whose forums were announced via a campus-wide email. After this search failed to result in a hire, Dean Jones was invited to campus in the middle of the summer, when most faculty are off contract, and appointed a few weeks later. Engineering faculty have alleged this process bypassed the initial search committee and that faculty concerns were ignored.
Recently, we have seen a shift to simply appointing people into campus-wide leadership positions. After the departure of the previous Director of Latinx/Hispanic Community Relations in June 2023, who was hired via a formal search with campus and community forums, a new director was simply appointed. At the December 2023 Senate meeting, President Sandoval said that he was in talks with someone he would like to appoint as the permanent Executive Director of DEI. After some senators raised concerns, he opened a search with a short application window, but no information was provided about a search committee or campus forums for this important position. While opening a search was a promising step, a compromised search is just as bad as no search. Similarly, on February 5, 2024, the campus community was notified that Mehmet Tosun was appointed as the Chief International Officer for UNR–no search was conducted for what appears to be an important campus-wide position.
The Wolf Pack Rising strategic plan calls for UNR to “Increase faculty and staff diversity to achieve alignment with the National Association of System Heads (NASH) Equity Action Framework on hiring, retention, promotions, and rewards best practices.” Failing to conduct proper searches with input from a variety of stakeholders hinders the University’s ability to find talented candidates from a diversity of backgrounds, and risks people being promoted based on who they know, rather than the qualifications they bring to the position.
We are not questioning the qualifications of individual candidates, but rather calling for the administration to rebuild the UNR community’s confidence in our leadership by recommitting to shared governance in future executive hires. This work can include:
- Having search committees and public forums for all leadership positions at the Dean level or above, or those that have a campus-wide role.
- Ensuring that the chairs of search committees work closely with committees through every step of the process.
- Selecting search committees that represent a diversity of perspectives and empower those committees to have a strong role in shaping the hiring process.
- Conducting stakeholder surveys, and centering that feedback in the hiring process–consider releasing summaries of those surveys to the campus community.
- Ensuring that any person involved in the hiring process discloses any personal connections or conflicts of interest that may influence their hiring of a particular candidate, and recuses themselves from a decision-making role.
By taking these steps, we believe that UNR’s leadership can correct course and restore our faith in the hiring of future leaders.
The above statement was made by The Nevada Faculty Alliance. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily express the views of The Nevada Sagebrush or its staff. For any questions regarding the statement please reach out to email@example.com.