Regents approve UNR-Renown deal, faculty merit pay policy in marathon two-day meeting

The Board of Regents met for two days this week to hash out a host of higher education issues in the wake of a busy legislative session that saw operational budgets slashed even as personnel budgets were spared. 

The result was a whirlwind of new approved policies, including finalizing a major partnership deal for the UNR School of Medicine, the first dedicated merit-pay funding source for faculty since the Great Recession and the ushering in of new board leadership for the new fiscal year. 

Below are some of the major moves regents made this week. 

UNR Med-Renown Health partnership gets green light after hitting temporary snag on sale-clause

Roughly 10 months after initial negotiations began on a partnership deal between the UNR Medical School and Reno-area health care giant Renown Health, regents voted 12-1 to approve a landmark agreement that will tie the two parties together for the next 50 years. 

The final vote Friday came after a months-long process of votes across different bodies, with the deal clearing both Renown’s corporate board and the Legislature. 

Regents, administrators and Renown executives have hailed the agreement as “transformative,” and a major step in expanding the scope of UNR’s medical programs, teaching programs and clinical research. 

“We are one of the last medical schools to be community-based, as we are now,” UNR Med Dean Tom Schwenk said.

Schwenk said the lack of any public-private agreement limited the school’s ability to expand clinical research, expand class sizes and build new residency programs, all reasons why “every medical school in the country has pursued this type of health system partnership.” 

Still, some regents raised concerns over the half-century length of the deal — the first of its kind in Nevada — as well as over provisions that could trigger the sale of the medical school’s clinical research department under certain conditions. 

As written, the deal would allow Renown to terminate the agreement if the sum of state funding and student tuition money dropped by 20 percent or more in a single year. Under those conditions, the clause would give Renown a right of first offer to purchase UNR Medical School’s basic science and clinical research departments. 

Coupled with the lengthy timeline, Board Chair Mark Doubrava said that while he supported the effort from a “medical education standpoint,” the sale clause could prove to be an unintended landmine should economic downturns or unexpected inflation shifts trigger the fine print of the agreement. 

“This could potentially serve as a template for UNLV when they do their associations, so that means we have to get this one right,” Doubrava said. 

Doubrava — an ophthalmologist who earned his medical degree from UNR in 1989 — was ultimately the sole vote against approval, saying afterward that his objection was “just an issue of contracts.”

Still, all other board members expressed approval of the language as written, deferring in part to UNR President Brian Sandoval’s description of the clause as a “safety net” that would protect the school in a worst-case scenario, rather than a mechanism by which Renown would privatize the school. 

“The intent of it was that, in the very unlikely event there was a dramatic reduction in funding which would lend itself to a closure of the clinic facilities — this was an effort on behalf of Renown to try and keep the doors open,” Sandoval told regents. “And it would be subject to the review and approval of the regents, and so I think that was just a safety clause.” 

Regents OK faculty merit pay policy amid concerns over timing 

After four years of deliberations, studies and lobbying between faculty, regents and the state government, regents voted unanimously Friday to set aside a 1 percent pool of institutional funding for performance pay raises. 

It is the first such permanent funding pool since state-funded merit raises were defunded during the Great Recession. 

Faculty advocates — who have long raised concerns that the absence of merit raises was compressing salaries, worsening diversity issues and harming morale — hailed the vote as a success.

“It’s a great victory,” Doug Unger, president of the UNLV chapter of the Nevada Faculty Alliance, said. “It’s been four years of work, faculty really want it … it’s been a long time coming.”  

In approving the measure, regents also bumped up the timing for the implementation of such raises to 2023. Amid a bevy of budgetary unknowns and in the wake of steep cuts to operational budgets after the legislative session, the original measure called for implementation no later than 2024. 

Chancellor Melody Rose characterized the timeline not as a “delay tactic,” but as a due-diligence measure that would allow the system and institutions to better grasp budget limits before committing millions to institutional pay-raise pools. 

But that timeline was criticized by faculty, including Unger, who said they “just couldn’t wait any longer” after just one performance pay increase in the last 12 years. 

Friday’s vote also comes in the wake of a controversial move by legislators to approve different cost-of-living raises for unionized and non-unionized public employees. Under the pay bill passed this year, employees without a collective bargaining agreement will receive a 1 percent raise, and those with a CBA in place will see a 3 percent increase. 

Many Nevada faculty — who are not allowed to collectively bargain under Nevada law and saw a bill meant to secure such rights, SB373, die in committee this legislative session — have decried the disparity. 

“I think, as we are looking at these as campuses are distributing merit, that the issue is that we need to maintain that merit is different than cost of living increases or other forms of in-rank salary advancement that we can have,” UNR Faculty Senate Chair Amy Pason told the board. “Because compression is not going to be fixed just by performance pay alone.”

Board votes in Regents Cathy McAdoo, Patrick Carter as new chair, vice chair

Regent Cathy McAdoo will take the reins as board chair for the 2022 fiscal year, taking over for previous chair Mark Doubrava. McAdoo was the only regent nominated for the chair position, and the board elected her unanimously. 

Representing a district that includes most of rural eastern Nevada, including Elko, Nye and parts of Clark counties, McAdoo — who was elected in 2016 — is among the longest-serving regents remaining on the board.

Regent Patrick Carter, also elected in 2016, was narrowly elected to the vice chair position, beating Regent Amy Carvalho in a 7-5 vote. 

The two will take over board leadership after the fiscal year ends at the end of this month. 

Interim president for Nevada State College named for six-week summer gap

Regents appointed Nevada State College Provost Executive Vice President Vickie Shields as interim president Thursday, filling the roughly six-week gap between the retirement of outgoing President Bart Patterson at the end of June and the start-date for incoming permanent President DeRionne Pollard in mid-August. 

The appointment will pay Shields $10,426 in a prorated monthly stipend and mandate that she maintain an “in-person presence” on the NSC campus during the six-week period. The agreement also stipulates that Shields will return to her role as provost and executive vice president once Pollard takes the reins.