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Nine candidates vie for two open Board of Regents seats in Districts 8, 11


by April Corbin Girnus, Nevada Current

The Board of Regents is a 13-member elected board that sets policies and approves budgets for the Nevada System of Higher Education, which is comprised of four community colleges (College of Southern Nevada, Truckee Meadows Community College, Great Basin College, Western Nevada College), one state college (Nevada State College), two universities (University of Nevada Las Vegas and University of Nevada Reno) and one research institute (Desert Research Institute).

This year there are five open regents seats. Here we will cover just two — Districts 11 and 8, which represent parts of northern and rural Nevada. The remaining three races — Southern Nevada’s Districts 6, 7 and 13 — will be highlighted later this week.

The top two finishers in the upcoming June primary will advance to the November general election.

Regents serve six-year terms.

District 11

Jason Geddes

Board of Regents District 11 includes Sparks, northern Reno and northern Washoe, Humboldt and Pershing counties. It is currently represented by incumbent Regent Jason Geddes, who is termed out and unable to run. This primary pits two men with careers at community colleges against a retired businessman with a history of education advocacy.

John Gwaltney was president of TMCC from 1986 to 1994 and served as president of two other colleges in Illinois and Kansas — totalling 18 years as a community college executive. Before that, he spent two decades teaching at community colleges. He still teaches one course at TMCC. He also served two terms on the Nevada Board of Education, which oversees K-12 schools.

Gwaltney told the Nevada Faculty Alliance he is running for office because “the current situation on the Board of Regents is unstable, presenting an appearance of confusion, misuse of funds, and weakening support by the Legislature for higher education.”

Jeffrey Downs is also a career educator. He has taught at WNC for the past 18 years and served as interim vice president of student success and support for more than two years. He also spent three years as a visiting lecturer at the UNR and five years teaching high school.

Downs told the Nevada Faculty Alliance that more than a decade has passed since a faculty member served as regent. “My hope,” he wrote, “is to remind the other members about academic freedom and the struggles faculty face trying to afford the cost of living in Nevada.”

Steve Laden worked in the financial services industry for 32 years before retiring in early 2021. He only briefly worked for a university at the start of his career, but he has substantial time on education-related boards, including 11 years on the Education Alliance of Washoe County/Education Collaborative and eight years on the State of Nevada Council to Establish Academic Excellence.

Laden suggested his extensive business career and experience as an education advocate will serve him as a regent better than direct experience within the higher education system: “I do not come to the table with any known baggage, burned bridges or conflicts of interest.”

As for their own educational background, both Gwaltney and Downs have doctorates. Laden holds a bachelor’s degree in business economics.

None of the candidates have done much fundraising as of the end of the first quarter, according to campaign reports filed with the state. Downs reported no contributions or expenses. Gwaltney contributed $500 of his own money to his campaign but had spent nothing. Laden reported $3,600 in contributions but only $500 of which was from other people.

On attempts to restructure the Board of Regents:

Gwaltney was outspoken in his support of 2020’s Question 1 — a legislatively-driven ballot initiative that would have removed the Board of Regents from the Nevada Constitution and instructed the Legislature to pass laws regarding governance of the state’s higher education system. Gwaltney maintains his previous position, writing in his Nevada Faculty Alliance questionnaire that it would “put regents on the same footing as higher education systems in other states.”

That position sets him apart from Downs and Laden, who both oppose the removal of the Board of Regents from the Nevada Constitution.

“Removing this governing body will negatively impact Nevadans and create an even more insulated body,” said Downs in his response. “We have the opportunity to affect the board makeup every two years, we need to retain this level of impact.”

Laden also opposed, saying he interprets the “sub-plot” of the effort to be about breaking up NSHE into two systems — one for community colleges and one for four-year universities — overseen by two separate boards, which could be fully appointed or hybrid appointed-elected. He wrote he does not see the value in those goals.

On allowing the concealed or open carry of firearms on NSHE campuses:

  • Laden: “Oppose.”
  • Gwaltney: “Only by police officers.”
  • Downs: “Seeing the successes and low crime rates for concealed carry in institutions in other states, I support concealed carry on campus. This would act as a deterrent to crime on campus, especially sexual assaults. Those choosing to carry concealed would need to understand the responsibility of what they are choosing to do, though.”

The complete Nevada Faculty Alliance questionnaires for District 11 candidates is available here.

District 8

Board of Regents District 8 encompasses Elko, Esmeralda, Eureka, Lincoln, Nye and White Pine counties, as well as part of northern Clark County. The district is currently represented by Cathy McAdoo. In 2016, McAdoo, a former nonprofit director, was the only candidate to file for the seat, so she won her six-year term by default.

Cathy McAdoo

McAdoo, who is not seeking reelection, was embroiled in controversy following allegations from Chancellor Melody Rose that she and fellow Regent Patrick Carter violated Rose’s contract and created a hostile work environment. That saga ended with Rose leaving her post early, following the approval of a separation agreement by the regents in April.

Now, six candidates are seeking to be McAdoo’s successor.

Jonathan Baltera is a choir teacher at Sierra Vista High School within Clark County School District, though he previously worked in graduate admissions and as an adjunct instructor at UNLV. Baltera received a bachelor’s in music from Oregon State University and a master’s in education, curriculum and instruction from the UNLV.

When asked by Nevada Faculty Alliance about their top criteria for choosing a chancellor, Baltera emphasized that a chancellor should be a partner and collaborator. “I believe we’ve had chancellors like this over the last few years, but the behavior of the board has driven those individuals away.”

Shelly Crawford is the principal of C.C. Ronnow Elementary, a Title-1 school in CCSD. She received an associate’s degree in psychology from CSN (back before it dropped ‘Community’ from its name), a bachelor’s degree in teaching English as second language from Sierra Nevada College and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from UNLV. She is currently pursuing an education doctorate in leadership and education administration from Taft University.

On the issue of faculty recruitment and retention, Crawford noted her K-12 school has 100% staff retention and a waiting list of people who want to work.

“I have learned that people leave bosses before they leave jobs,” she added. “A close second is pay, healthcare and benefits.”

Aaron Manfredi is a realtor and owner of a small landscape installation business. He received an associate’s degree in mental health services from CSN, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, a master’s degree in public administration from UNLV and a master’s in justice management from UNR.

Manfredi said the process of selecting a new chancellor needs to be “nonpolitical.”

“Outside of proven leadership, we need a chancellor who’s going to listen and work with the regents,” he added. “This was lacking this last cycle. If someone comes from out of state, they need to be educated on our process and our expectations.”

Elmer Porter is a technology director for Eureka County School District. He previously taught business classes for 11 years and coached high school basketball for 26 years. He received his bachelor’s in education from Oregon State College.

He emphasized a commitment to supporting both NSHE’s smaller, rural institutions as well as its larger, urban universities. He said the Board of Regents “have not done a good job in targeting specific funding.”

John Patrick Rice is a professor of fine arts at Great Basin College. He also served three terms on Elko City Council. He has a BA in theater arts from Viterbo University, an MFA in theater-acting from University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and a PhD in education from Capella University.

Rice suggested that the regents should not be concerned with day-to-day matters within individual institutions.

“Our vision is to hire visionary presidents and system administrators and let them do their jobs,” he said. “I have watched too many NSHE presidents and chancellors come to the job with outstanding vision and plans to fulfill them, and then watched the Board of Regents do everything they can to prevent them from fulfilling their vision.I will stop it.”

Stacy Smith is the CEO of Nye Communities Coalition and has worked as a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. She received her bachelor’s in social work from Ohio Dominican University.

She likened the regents to a nonprofit board, saying it “should support the chancellor and presidents as they run their institutions.”

On whether they would support of oppose a policy to regulate discussion of or teaching about divisive topics such as critical race theory on NSHE campuses:

  • Baltera: “I oppose regulation of the teaching on our campuses. We should support and trust our faculty to make the right decisions for their students and communities. I’m sure by the next election those who use the teaching of CRT to bludgeon educators will have moved onto something else. I trust faculty based on the needs of their fields. That’s what we hired them to do.”
  • Crawford: “The beauty of higher education is learning who you are and what you believe in. Exposure does this. Creating any policy that regulates discussion within academia is uncalled for. For this, I would oppose policy that regulates discussion of critical race theory or any theory.”
  • Manfredi: “Support. Let’s talk about it before we put it out.”
  • Porter: “I would support a policy to regulate the teaching of critical race theory on NSHE campuses. Any society that cherishes a minimum amount of pride required to sustain itself should understand that instilling racially divisive thought in the minds of impressionable students is a recipe for disaster. No nation will long endure if its youngest generation is full of disdain, disgust and self hatred.”
  • Rice: “I will oppose any such policy.”
  • Smith: “Difficult conversations and divisive topics help formulate understanding. I expect educators to know what is appropriate for their students to learn and how to lead discussion.”

Four of the six District 8 candidates — Manfredi, Porter, Baltera and Smith — reported zero fundraising during the first three months of the year. Crawford reported $2,650 in donations and contributions; $1,000 of which was a loan from herself. Rice reported $7,500 total — though $5,000 of that was self funded.

The complete Nevada Faculty Alliance questionnaire answers for District 8 candidates are available here.

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: [email protected]. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

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