By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
Dale Erquiaga, the acting chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, said on Nevada Newsmakers Wednesday that he will not seek the job as permanent chancellor and will retire from public life when the term of his current employment expires.
“I will retire at the end of this job,” Erquiaga told host Sam Shad. “My arrangement with the board was that I would be acting chancellor and ‘acting’ in the NSHE means that you’re not eligible to apply (for the permanent job) and that was intentional on my part.
“This is my last job in public service,” Erquiaga added.
Erquiaga, who grew up in Fallon with former Gov. and current University of Nevada, Reno President Brian Sandoval, has enjoyed a long career in public service.
He was a key policy advisor to Sandoval in the formative years of Sandoval’s first term as governor. Erquiaga also served as the state superintendent of public education and as the director of government affairs and public policy for the Clark County School District.
In July, he began an 18-month deal to work as acting chancellor. He took over two months after the controversial exit of former Chancellor Melody Rose, who left with a $610,000 severance package less than two years into a four-year contract.
Erquiaga said he would not be lured back: “They will find the perfect person.”
One of Erquiaga’s main tasks is to guide NSHE through the 2023 session of the Nevada Legislature, which begins in Carson City in less than four months.
Erquiaga knows his way around the Legislature because of his experience in Nevada’s educational issues, Shad noted.
NSHE is coming off some tough years due to cuts necessitated by Covid shutdowns. In 2020, a special session of the Legislature cut about $130 million from the NSHE budget, according to the Nevada Independent.
“Restoring the Nevada System of Higher Education budget is a priority,” Erquiaga said, later calling 2023 “one of those watershed years.”
“This is a very important session for the future,” he said. “Not just for the (higher education) system but for the state. As you (Shad) joke, I have been around a very long time in a number of jobs in state government and at the Clark County School District. And this is one of those watershed years.
“If we don’t get it right, coming out of this pandemic, we’ll pay a price, certainly for the rest of my life and probably into that of my grandchildren who are now in the system.”
Covid was tough on higher education in Nevada, Erquiaga said.
“Like most parts of government during the recession, it was triggered by the pandemic and NSHE took some pretty good cuts and those were not restored,” he said. “And so, the regents, rightfully, approved a budget for the next biennium that starts there, to restore programs and positions lost.”
Erquiaga also noted that fewer California students — a source of out-of-state tuition — are attending UNR.
“Increasingly now though, I think what President Sandoval will tell you is that legislative changes made in California and their desire to keep students home is impacting UNR’s enrollment,” Erquiaga said.
“They are keeping their students at home in California, at least that is the legislative initiative,” he said. “So I think President Sandoval would report that he has seen a decline in California students enrolling at his institution.”
Higher education is a competitive business, Erquiaga said.
“There is competition nationwide,” he said. “We were not the only system that was cut during the pandemic and so all systems are competing to keep their students within their state. That means we don’t have them, from an out-of-state tuition perspective.”
Erquiaga said he’ll take a team approach in lobbying legislators in 2023.
“It’s interesting, the chancellor, according to the board (of regents) code, is the representative to the governor and Legislature,” he said. “But I have been around that (Legislature) building enough to know the whole is greater than the sum of its parts — however that expression goes.
“We want a team,” he continued. “All our presidents are all exemplary. They do a great job. They understand their campuses. Their campuses are very unique. So to assume that only one person can speak for the institutions as different as the Great Basin College, which serves rural Nevada, and UNLV, really isn’t very wise.”