NEVADA — The state supreme court ruled in March that the presidentof a community college is not a public officer and that at least partsof a college’s presidential search may be conducted privately.
The decision came after The Las Vegas Review-Journal suedin September to prevent the Community College of Southern Nevada Boardof Regents from privately interviewing presidential candidates. A districtcourt issued an injunction in October stopping the private interviews.
The University and Community College System of Nevada then appealedto the state supreme court, which said presidents are not public officersand thus interviews may be private.
The majority opinion stated that “because the president is wholly subordinateand responsible to the board, and can only implement policies establishedby the board, we conclude that the community college president does notmeet the statutory requisites of a public officer.”
The three dissenting judges, however, said in a separate opinion thata community college president should be considered a public officer becausethe position was established by law, and “the position involves the continuousexercise of a public power and this exercise of public responsibility ispart of a regular and permanent government administration.”
Thomas Ray, general counsel for the community college system, said itwas not the presidential searches the board of regents was most concernedabout in the case, but the potential change to the relationship betweenthe board of regents and the president. If the court had declared the presidenta public official, Ray said, the board would have less oversight over thepresident and reviews of the president by the board would be open to thepublic.
“Our biggest concern was evaluations of sitting presidents,” Ray said.The evaluations are a “very personal thing” that have not been open inthe past, he said.
Babette May-Herrmann, editor of the college’s student newspaper,The Coyote Press, said system officials are starting the presidentialsearch again and have hired an outside agency to help find candidates.She said she believes the president should be considered a public official.
“To me, he’s a public official,” she said. “He’s not a private citizen.”