Las Vegas Sun

August 26, 2019

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Feeling burned, Rogers says UNR can forget his $3 mil

University system Chancellor Jim Rogers says his family decided against making a $3 million contribution to UNR because of harsh comments regents have made about his leadership of Nevada's colleges and universities.

Rogers told the Sun on Wednesday he understands that he is subject to criticism in his role as chancellor. But he also thinks it's fair to consider that criticism when making philanthropic decisions.

"I did not turn over my balance sheet to the system," said Rogers, who owns a string of television stations in the West. "I reserve the right to do with my money what my family wants."

The decision about the UNR contribution underscores the conflicting roles Rogers has in Nevada. He is a major contributor to higher education and also serves, virtually unpaid, as chancellor. At other times he is businessman, political kingmaker and robust sports fan, taking a strong interest in UNLV's teams.

The various roles often lead to conflicts with the 13-member Board of Regents, which oversees the chancellor. Regents at times have difficultly distinguishing when Rogers is acting as chancellor or donor or sports fan or citizen.

His ability to pull the purse strings - both in donations to the Nevada System of Higher Education and in political races - has raised questions about whether the often politically ambitious regents can adequately assess the chancellor's performance.

Rogers told Regent Ron Knecht about his latest decision during a break in Friday's regents' meeting. The money would have gone toward a new science and math building at UNR.

Rogers and his family were already smarting from Knecht's written evaluation of Rogers in June. On Friday, moments before the break, Knecht questioned the scope of Rogers' authority and sought to narrow one aspect of the chancellor's job. Knecht wanted to require the chancellor to consult with the regents' chairman before taking disciplinary action against a president.

Knecht's words in the evaluation had gone beyond acceptable criticism, Rogers told the Sun on Wednesday. The evaluation called his honesty and integrity into question. Rogers' wife, Beverly, and son, Perry Rogers, wealthy on his own accord as Andre Agassi's agent, were outraged, the chancellor said.

"He called me a crook," Rogers said. "I've always said you can call me anything but dishonest, and that's where I draw the line."

Knecht said Rogers' decision was unfortunate.

"I hope at some point he'll have a cooler, more logical viewpoint," Knecht said. "There is no good nexus between my harsh, but fair evaluation and his decision not to donate.

"... If he is unhappy about my evaluation he should correct the things I point out or take it out directly with me He should not lash out at the Nevada System of Higher Ed. I just think that is inappropriate."

Eleven regents interviewed by the Sun this week agreed that Rogers' decision was unfortunate, but none said they planned to take any action. Seven said his decision did not raise any ethical concerns.

"From my perspective it is Jim's money and it is his call," Chairman Michael Wixom said.

Rogers' money has always been part of the dynamics in relations between the chancellor and the regents, Wixom said. But he said he thought he and other regents were able to separate Rogers the chancellor and Rogers the donor when making policy decisions.

Rogers has given or pledged nearly $200 million to higher education - an estimated two-thirds of his fortune. He has pledged about $55 million to UNLV alone, paying $500,000 to $1 million a year toward those pledges. Although many of his donations are public, Rogers has declined to detail the extent of his donations. Donor information is confidential under Nevada law.

Before becoming chancellor in May 2004, Rogers had a reputation as a strong-willed and passionate businessman. Those traits have not always served him well as chancellor. He has balked at yielding authority to regents, even though he has close relationships with many members.

Earlier this year, in a dispute with some regents, he abruptly resigned with a two-word note: I quit. He changed his mind just as abruptly later that week after he and regents cleared the air.

This is not the first time he has cut off contributions to the university system. He pulled a $25 million pledge to UNLV a few months into his tenure as interim chancellor, telling regents the board was dysfunctional and that he did not think the money would be a good investment. After he later reinstated the pledge, he said he had pulled it because he feared Nevada State College in Henderson wouldn't get the funding it needed, thus hurting UNLV's ability to excel. He later moved the pledge to health sciences.

Negotiations over the possible $3 million donation to UNR had not been completed, Rogers said. He added that the family's decision would likely mean they would not make any new donations to any institution in the system, at least for the time being, because of Knecht's evaluation. Rogers said the family has no plans to stop paying on earlier pledges.

Knecht's evaluation of Rogers questions his honesty at least three times. The document was made public in June as part of the regents' annual performance appraisal of Rogers.

In the evaluation, Knecht attacked a claim Rogers made in the self-appraisal part of the annual review. Rogers said he never micromanages the state's universities. But one day before the evaluation, Rogers had criticized UNLV athletic director Mike Hamrick for not doing a better fundraising job.

"In short, the contrast between his proclaimed hands-off principle and the reality of his behavior undermines completely his claims, made since his public interview with the board to be appointed interim chancellor, to supreme integrity and being a stickler for honesty and forthrightness," Knecht wrote.

Knecht went on to question Rogers' charitable giving, claiming that Rogers has a "history of promising and advertising higher levels of contribution than he actually makes, and more particularly of spreading his contributions over time so that he can leverage on a continuing basis more terms, conditions and concessions than those to which the recipients originally committed."

Because Rogers is both donor and chief executive over the recipient institution, there is no way to assure the public that his decisions are in the public interest and not Rogers' self-interest, Knecht wrote.

Knecht's critics, however, including fellow regents, have questioned whether Knecht's evaluation of Rogers was not in part fueled by self-interest. Rogers donated $20,000 to Knecht's opponent, David Fulstone, in his race to be regent.

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