Whipple showed leadership in chancellor's resignation

I wrote a commentary in the Nevada Appeal back on Oct. 18 in which I said, "One of the hallmarks of American democracy is its ability to manage power better than other forms of government. Competent power management recognizes that the concentration of power in one institution (or person) over an extended period of time is an omen of disaster."

Since that time, I have hoped to find an example of "competent" power management by an elected official embroiled in "... a real omen of disaster." It appears that we finally found one in Bret Whipple, the president of the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents. I have observed his handling of the current flap between Regent James Dean Leavitt and Chancellor James E. Rogers, resulting in Rogers' resignation on Sunday morning.

The print and voice media are reporting the conflict in detail so there's no need to repeat them here. Suffice it to say that Chancellor Rogers has a history of conflict with the board by conducting activity in excess of his delegated authority. It came to a head when Rogers played his last card by writing a letter to Whipple threatening to resign if Leavitt should be elected either chair or vice chair of the board in June. Certainly, the chancellor was making a power play, with a clear attempt to dictate to his superiors, the Board of Regents.

He lost. No matter how significant his contributions have been, such public or private action by a subordinate is insubordination. Whipple took the challenge, backing Rogers into a corner by justifiably calling for Rogers' resignation, a public risk only he, Regent Leavitt and Regent Howard Rosenberg had the courage to take.

It was a risk. Without the pressure to resign, Rogers could have continued the battle in public, further eroding the board's ability to direct the mission of the university system and forcing the board to assume a subordinate position to Rogers. With the Legislature soon to convene, that may have been disastrous.

When Whipple called his bluff, Rogers had no alternative but to send a letter to Whipple with a very simple statement, "I quit."

It boils down to the fact that if an employee or an appointed official engages in official activities in excess of delegated authority, that official is using power, not authority, and the activity becomes abusive if it is egregious or flagrant.

As Regent Howard Rosenberg put it, "The very thing that you need most in education is what (Chancellor Rogers) brings to it: a determination, a real passion, a belief that what he's doing is the right thing to do. But you can't do it if you kill everybody in your way."

On April 10, 2005, I wrote a commentary in the Nevada Appeal in which I said, "... we try to find a leadership role that we believe fits extraordinary people - and people to fill extraordinary leadership roles.

Sometimes we match the role with the right person. Other times, we don't." In this instance, by calling Chancellor Rogers' bluff, Bret Whipple took on that role with courage and conviction.

• Dan Mooney of Carson City is a frequent contributor to the Nevada Appeal opinion page.


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