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October 24, 2014

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Regents may shift gears on UNLV med school plans to appeal to Southern Nevada donors

Affiliation with UNR could be detrimental to fundraising efforts, officials told

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Christopher DeVargas

NSHE Chancellor Dan Klaich speaks with the Sun Editorial Board, Tuesday Aug. 20, 2013.

Nevada’s higher education leaders are reconsidering the accreditation process for a proposed new UNLV medical school amid concerns about losing donor support from Southern Nevadans.

When regents approved an agreement to create a UNLV medical school in November, they outlined plans for a partnership between UNR and UNLV for a new public, M.D.-granting medical school in Las Vegas.

Initial plans called for UNLV to use the University of Nevada School of Medicine’s accreditation to kick-start a Southern Nevada medical school. Eventually, the UNLV medical would become independently accredited.

Now, though, some question whether Southern Nevada philanthropists will support a medical school in Las Vegas affiliated with UNR.

“We are not buying a second UNR medical school in Las Vegas,” Lindy Schumacher, director of Nevada giving for the Lincy Foundation, wrote in an op-ed published in the Sun. “I believe (University of Nevada School of Medicine Dean Thomas) Schwenk would find a pool of donors in Las Vegas if he were asking for gifts for a UNLV Las Vegas-based medical school, and not simply a branch of the UNR medical school.”

Amid concerns about losing donations that could help build a UNLV medical school, a statewide steering committee today recommended to the Board of Regents that UNLV pursue a separate accreditation process without assistance from UNR.

Regents will vote on the change at their June meeting.

“Private philanthropy will play an absolutely critical role in whether this will be successful or not,” said Dan Klaich, Nevada’s higher education chancellor. “We believe (the separate accreditation process) is the best way to get there. We believe we have the greatest chance for success with this implementation strategy.”

The presidents of UNLV and UNR supported Klaich’s position.

“There is no doubt that a medical school is a tremendous opportunity for fundraising,” UNLV President Don Snyder said. “This clears the deck for the types of conversations that we need to have.”

“I think the fundraising down here is very important,” UNR President Marc Johnson said. “It’s pretty clear that Southern Nevada donors really don’t want to write a check to UNR and vice versa.”

Health care consultant Paul Umbach said the separate accreditation process is not expected to take longer or cost more than a joint process. In fact, the accrediting body – Liaison Committee on Medical Education – prefers a separate process, he said.

The steering committee – comprised of representatives from the Nevada System of Higher Education, UNR and UNLV and business leaders – said leaders from UNLV and UNR would continue to work together to submit a joint budget to the Legislature to seek health education funding.

While many regents seemed supportive of the change, Regent Jason Geddes said the separate accreditation process gave him “great pause.” The Reno regent said he was worried a UNLV medical school with a separate accreditation from UNR may jeopardize higher education leaders’ ability to seek funding from the Legislature.

“We’ve been in a zero-sum game for many years,” Geddes said. “If we do something, it comes from something else. I’m worried about the budget.”

Regent Allison Stephens, from Las Vegas, said she too had concerns about the separate accreditation process, but for a different reason. Stephens said she believed a partnership with UNR would be the “more prudent way” to start a UNLV medical school. She was not keen to change direction based on “anecdotes” that donors won’t support a UNR-affiliated medical school in Las Vegas.

“It doesn’t give me any comfort moving ahead with this path,” Stephens said.

For Regent Mark Doubrava, who began the most recent push for a UNLV medical school, the change won’t affect the regents' end goal.

“The basic tenets (of regents’ plan) is to preserve the UNR medical school and eventually create a UNLV medical school,” Doubrava said. “That still exists. I think this makes sense.”

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