Published Tuesday, April 3, 2018 | 10:19 a.m.
Updated Tuesday, April 3, 2018 | 3:28 p.m.
Citing what he described as “unfounded and unjustified” attacks by members of the Nevada Board of Regents and Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Thom Reilly, UNLV President Len Jessup announced today that he was reluctantly leaving the university.
In an email to the campus community, Jessup said he had accepted an offer to become president of Claremont Graduate University in California and would begin his duties there effective July 1.
The announcement provided confirmation of rumors that began circulating last week that Jessup was leaving UNLV under pressure from Reilly and a faction of members of the Board of Regents.
Jessup took aim at his detractors in his message, saying the regents and chancellor had “decided on a vision and implemented a management structure for UNLV that is inconsistent with what I believe is in the best interests of UNLV.”
“I have expressed my disagreement consistently and have, unfortunately, been met by personal and professional attacks by the chancellor and some regents, unfounded and unjustified opinions, and media ‘leaks’ that appear to be calculated to damage not only me but UNLV and the UNLV Foundation...,” he said. “This is intolerable and unacceptable and has created a work environment that is not productive for me and my staff, who, among other issues, have had to deal with ongoing direct interference by individual regents and others on their behalf as I and my staff continue to attempt to carry out our responsibilities.”
In a statement issued hours after Jessup's, Board of Regents Chairman Kevin Page said there were "several significant factual inaccuracies" in Jessup's account of his ouster but said he could not address them.
"I am constrained by board policy and the open meeting law from engaging in a debate or discussion of the issues outside of a properly noticed public meeting," Page said in his statement. "Further, the board itself may only act in a properly noticed public meeting, and no individual Regent, including the chair, may speak for the board. The board will address these concerns at the appropriate time in accordance with the open meeting law, and its policies and procedures."
Jessup, who will leave UNLV in the third year of a five-year contract, said he had hoped to remain at UNLV for at least 10 years and possibly end his career at the university.
He outlined a number of strides the university has made during his presidency, including record-breaking fundraising, progress toward becoming a top-tier research institution and the launch of the UNLV School of Medicine.
But Jessup had faced growing public criticism from several regents over such matters as an agreement to accept a $14 million gift for the medical school building on the condition that he remain as president until 2020 and the university’s investigation into a dentist in its School of Dental Medicine reusing equipment intended for single usages in performing dental implants on more than 180 patients.
When news reports began emerging last month that Jessup was under fire, a group of his supporters in Southern Nevada spoke out in his defense in the media and blasted the regents for what they described as unfair criticism against Jessup.
The turmoil has led to the withdrawal of two multimillion-dollar donations, and a mega-donor who provided a $25 million gift toward construction of the medical school building said she was reconsidering that contribution as well as future donations.
Citing high turnover in the president’s office — Jessup was UNLV’s fourth president since 2006, not including a one-year interim — Jessup’s defenders said his departure would not only disrupt recent progress but would make it difficult for the university to attract a high-quality successor.
Jessup, in his message this morning, accused the regents and NSHE of smearing him in public as opposed to constructively working to resolve their concerns over UNLV’s management. Instead undertaking contractually required periodic reviews of his performance, the regents and chancellor improperly issued “denunciations” as “unbalanced fodder for the press.”
He said that on March 16, “after approximately nine months of antagonistic, invasive and consistent interference and animosity” expressed by his detractors, Board of Regents Chairman Kevin Page and Reilly told him they wanted him gone, either through termination or resignation.
Jessup said he had expected to receive a separation agreement from NSHE on March 19. When the agreement didn’t come, he said, he and his attorneys offered an agreement in which Jessup would remain at UNLV through spring commencement in May.
Jessup said he hadn’t received a “substantive response” to that agreement, so it’s unclear what may happen between now and July 1.
Reilly, in a statement issued this afternoon, thanked Jessup for his service but offered no clarity on the timetable. He said there would be a "thorough and tireless" search for a successor.
Reilly said in the statement that he had "significant concerns" about management issues under Jessup's watch, but contended he had tried to work with Jessup constructively to get them resolved. Earlier, Reilly had acknowledged that he raised concerns with Jessup during a job evaluation in January that was part of Jessup's review process.
He said Jessup came to him on March 5 and announced that he did not want to continue serving as president. After news reports emerged in mid-March that Jessup was under fire and might be ousted by the end of the semester, Reilly announced that the next step in Jessup's evaluation process would happen this fall, appearing to give Jessup time to resolve the issues. Reilly also said that he and Jessup had agreed to hire a chief operations officer at UNLV, but Jessup never publicly responded, leading to speculation that he was on his way out.
Jessup said leaving UNLV was a “bittersweet decision” for he and his partner, Kristi Staab. He said the two had received an “enormous amount of love expressed over the past several weeks from thousands of colleagues and friends — both on and off campus.”