A businessman with experience on statewide education-related panels and a college professor who has been an administrator are facing off for the open seat representing Northern Nevada on the Nevada Board of Regents.
The District 11 seat on the board is now held by Regent Jason Geddes, who is termed out. The district encompasses Humboldt and Pershing counties and part of Washoe County. The 13-person panel governs Nevada’s public colleges including the University of Nevada, Reno and Truckee Meadows Community College.
Here’s a look at the Regents District 11 candidates in the Nov. 8 general election.
Steve Laden, businessman and education advocate
Steve Laden, 61, is retired from a 32-year career in the financial services industry. He is a former board member and past president of the Education Alliance of Washoe County and a member of the State of Nevada Council to Establish Academic Standards. Laden, who has lived in Nevada for 37 years, is married with one son and a granddaughter. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California Santa Barbara.
Laden described himself as an education advocate who would bring more than 30 years of business experience to the position on the board, which oversees a $1.6 billion (two-year) operations budget plus another $400 million from student fees. Laden noted that he hasn’t worked at a higher education institution, so he doesn’t have “any political goals or potential conflicts of interest. I want nothing more than to support students who want to learn and the people who want to teach and support that endeavor.”
His business background, Laden said, taught him to be always open to new ideas, and figuring out if implementing them will result in “a more positive and contemporary direction.” Next year, the board will have to hire a new chancellor for the Nevada System of Higher Education; that person will be the board’s third chancellor search since 2020. Chancellor Melody Rose, who had served in the position for 19 months and was often in conflict with the Regents, resigned in April. The board voted to grant her $610,000 in severance pay.
“We need to reevaluate the chancellor position’s job description and title,” Laden said. “The chancellor is there to administer the will of the board and provide feedback to the board, but the institution presidents report to the board, not the chancellor.”
Laden said the board needs to forge a better relationship with the Legislature, which holds the purse strings for higher education operation budgets. “We need a cohesive and forward thinking board that actually has a strategic plan and then hires a chancellor and university presidents who are also on board with the plan,” he said. “Then we have to communicate what the system of higher education is and what it means to our students, faculty and all of the stakeholders.”
Passing a law allowing people to carry concealed weapons on campus, a proposal that regularly surfaces at the Legislature, was among the topics included in the Nevada Faculty Alliance questionnaire for regents’ candidates. “I firmly oppose carrying guns on campus,” Laden said. “We have uniformed, armed police on our campuses and escort services supplied by student government… I don’t believe concealed weapons should be allowed on campus. It scares me to have people who are not trained and not knowledgeable (about firearms) and maybe not emotionally ready to be carrying deadly weapons on campus. It makes no sense to me.”
Although his opponent promotes his university job as a positive factor in reaching for the Regent’s seat, Laden said having a college employee on the higher education governing board creates a conflict of interest. “On top of that (Jeffrey Downs) is heading up the collective bargaining for faculty and professional staff at Western Nevada College, so to me the conflict is not just self-evident – it’s gigantic,” Laden said. “So the question is, if he were elected, how many votes would he be forced to abstain on, and therefore not fully be able to represent our district.”
Laden is endorsed by Regent Jason Geddes, the District 11 incumbent and and more than two dozen local educators and education advocates.
Jeffrey Downs, college professor and administrator
Jeffrey Downs, 51, is a community college professor, the interim vice president of student success and support services at Western Nevada College, and a visiting lecturer at UNR. He also is the Nevada Faculty Alliance chapter president for Western Nevada College.
Downs moved to Nevada in 2000 and is married with three children. He holds a bachelors degree from California State University, San Bernardino; a masters from California State University Fullerton; and is a doctorate candidate at Liberty University.
If he wins the regent’s seat, Downs would be the first faculty member on the board since University of Nevada, Reno professor Howard Rosenberg was elected to the panel in 1996. Having a faculty member on the board, Downs said, gives the panel a perspective on faculty concerns and issues. “It’s important to have that voice on the board, even if it’s just one out of 13, it’s more presence than just (relying on) public comment,” he said. When the board is handling issues that may present a conflict with his position as a system employee, Downs said he will “do whatever the legal counsel recommends I do,” including recusing himself from voting on a given issue.
In searching for a new chancellor, Downs said the board needs to find a person who will build a positive relationship with Legislature and work well with the board. “It’s a demanding job,” he said. The board, he said, needs to restore its relationship with state lawmakers. “Over the past decade, the once cooperative and collaborative working partnership has deteriorated significantly,” he said. “…We need a change of direction and representatives who are willing to put the past issues aside and restore that partnership with the Legislature that we once had.”
Downs said he would work to build better relationships between the education system and businesses. “Part of that is incorporating into our curriculum the things that businesses like Tesla and Panasonic, for example, want in their future employees,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we have to abandon any principles we now have in our programs, but to hone in on the things that make our product – our students – better suited for what (businesses) are after.” He also favors creating more certificate programs to augment the degree tracks. “Get them into the workforce in meaningful ways,” he said.
Unlike Laden, Downs supports allowing people who hold concealed weapons permits to carry guns on campus, which would require a change in state law.
“Ninety-four percent of shootings occur in gun-free zones,” he said. “These gun-free zones create a target-rich environment for people who want to do harm. Even if no one carries, the possibility of it is what makes (the campus) less attractive to shooters. It would be nice if the Legislature would give people the opportunities to defend themselves.”
Downs, who has worked on collective bargaining agreements at Western Nevada College, is endorsed by the National Republican Chamber of Commerce, the Northern Nevada Building Trades union, the Northern Nevada Central Labor Council and has an Iron Workers Statewide Endorsement.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was edited on Sept. 20 to correct the amount of state operational funds requested by the Regents each biennium.
Steven Laden has been an active member of the Reno Host Lions club for many years. Steve is articulate and competent. He would fill Jason Geddes’ shoes well.
Jeff Downs, a professor and VP of student success and support services, would bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Board of Regents. He is committed to student success, collective bargaining, and is an advocate for academic freedom. His years of educational experience would be a huge asset and provide a much needed voice for students, faculty, and administrators. Jeff cares deeply about education and the community. He would be a logical and compassionate member of the board.
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