LAS VEGAS — The new head of Nevada's university system is no "ivory tower academic," she said, and thinks growing up as the daughter of a teenage mother and a father who struggled with addiction makes her a lot like the 100,000 students in the Silver State's higher education system.
"My life as a kid was pretty chaotic," said Melody Rose, who began Sept. 1 as chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education. "I like to say our household generally had more beers than books in it."
Rose told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, transparency, trust and inclusion will be key for the Nevada system.
"My focus … has really been getting around to some of our key internal stakeholders," she said, adding that she has been meeting with and listening to faculty members, students, campus presidents and Board of Regents officers. She also planned meetings with officials in the governor's office and state legislators.
Rose has 25 years of experience in higher education, most recently as an independent consultant to universities.
She was vice chancellor for academic strategies at the Oregon University System in 2012 and chancellor in 2013-14. She was president of a private Catholic institution, Marylhurst University, when it closed in 2018 after nearly 125 years in operation in Oregon.
Her four-year contract with the Nevada System of Higher Education runs through August 2024 at a base salary of almost $440,000.
Rose succeeds Thom Reilly, who spent three years as chief administrator of eight institutions: university campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada State College in Henderson, four community colleges and the Desert Research Institute. His contract with NSHE has been extended to Dec. 31 as an adviser.
Rose told the Review-Journal that in addition to keeping a close eye on the COVID-19 pandemic, Nevada colleges and universities need to focus on student success.
As a result of the virus outbreak, NSHE faces almost $138 million in budget cuts, prompting regents to take several actions including imposition of a temporary student surcharge this school year of $3 to $8 per credit. The decision came just months after regents approved dozens of fee increases.
Las Vegas-area colleges and universities are conducting the vast majority of their classes remotely this fall.
Rose said NSHE schools will compile COVID-19 case counts every Friday, and figures will be posted on the system website.
"Campuses have huge numbers of people on them, so it's understandable we're going to have some cases," she said. "The goal really has to be the prevention of community spread."
Rose promised that work of a new regents' budget reduction committee will be open and transparent.
Regents also need to emphasize recruiting, retention and graduation of Black and Hispanic students, she said.
Six months of the pandemic have forced 60 years' worth of innovation in higher education, jarring people out of complacency and forcing administrators to think about "serving modern needs of modern students," she said.
Nevada has an advantage, she said, because people are moving to the Western U.S. and more minority students are attending college.
Nevada's Hispanic and Latino population is approaching 30%, according to the U.S. census.
Rose said she earned a bachelor's degree in politics as a first-generation college student at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She received a master's in public administration and a Ph.D. in government from Cornell University in New York.
She spent 17 years at Portland State University, where she taught political science, became an administrator and directed the Center for Women's Leadership.