Las Vegas Sun

November 16, 2018

Currently: 64° — Complete forecast

Sun editorial:

Despite recent drama, prognosis is optimistic for UNLV med school

Today, the UNLV School of Medicine will welcome prospective students for one of the most meaningful, commendable and inspirational events on the school’s calendar.

The event is a conference that focuses on bringing in students from lower-income families and ethnic groups who are underrepresented in the nation’s med schools, and encouraging them to follow their dreams. Staff will be on hand to answer questions about costs, academic entrance requirements, financial aid and the application timeline, while faculty physicians will share their stories about why they entered the medical field and current students will discuss their experiences.

This is exactly what an urban, public university should be doing: welcoming talented students from all backgrounds inside, and showing them that the drive and determination to excel — not academic pedigree or socioeconomic status — is their ticket to success. More than 100 students are expected to attend this year.

From afar, we’ll add our voice to those offering encouragement to these students today.

Some may be feeling anxiety over what’s happening with the school at the moment, with UNLV President Len Jessup leaving and with donors upset about the circumstances surrounding his departure.

But all prospective students of the school should know that the school is supported by a large, passionate and fully committed group of Southern Nevada residents who are determined to make it the world-class institution that Las Vegas deserves.

Those supporters convinced lawmakers to fund the medical school’s operations and commit $25 million toward the construction of a new building for the institution.

Before the turmoil with Jessup broke out, two of the supporters offered huge gifts for the building — $25 million from an anonymous donor and $14 million from the Engelstad Family Foundation.

Although the Engelstad gift has been withdrawn and the $25 million contribution is being reconsidered, that doesn’t mean support has dried up.

Quite the opposite. There’s been no walk-back of donations for scholarships, including contributions from the Engelstad foundation, and supporters are exploring ways to get the building funded that don’t involve working with the Nevada Board of Regents or the Nevada System of Higher Education.

It’s also crucial to note that funding for operations of the med school is fully intact. The only issue is with the building.

So all prospective students should know that building out the med school is a top priority in the community, not only among the school’s core supporters but among a broad-based group of civic and business leaders in Southern Nevada.

That’s because Las Vegas residents, like the school’s students, have a vested interest in it.

For the region to reach its potential, the school is a must. Not only will it improve our quality of life, but it promises to become the anchor for a new medical-
services industry sector. It also will make our community more attractive to businesses looking for places to start or expand operations.

Inexcusably, NSHE Chancellor Thom Reilly and a faction of regents have threatened to knock the school’s progress off schedule by pressuring Jessup to leave, which in turn has led to uncertainty about med school Dean Barbara Atkinson’s future.

Disgusted with NSHE and the regents over the ouster, the Engelstad foundation pulled its donation and the $25 million donor said she was reconsidering future contributions.

The donors’ actions were perfectly understandable. Jessup hasn’t been perfect, but he has done far more right than wrong during his three years as president.

He certainly didn’t deserve to be run off over the regents’ concerns, which included Jessup signing an agreement for the $14 million donation that tied it to him being retained until 2020, and UNLV’s investigation into a dentist at its School of Dental Medicine reusing equipment intended for single uses.

What’s happened here is the product of micromanagement, meddling and possibly even an effort to protect UNR’s flagship status by thwarting UNLV’s progress. The regents and Reilly, not UNLV or the community, have caused the turmoil.

Prospective students should know that local residents will be working hard to hold those individuals accountable, restructure the regents system and ensure that UNLV and the med school can keep moving forward.

In the meantime, to the students who’ll gather at the med school today, we’ll offer this message: The community is rooting for you, and for the school you may someday be attending.