Las Vegas Sun

March 18, 2019

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On road to greatness, regents take a wrong turn

Las Vegas, we’ve got a problem.

Just when we thought our community and UNLV were on the same page — you know, the one that says a city is only as strong as its university and the university is only as strong as the community behind it — along comes a challenge that requires us to prove the point.

That challenge is embodied in the Nevada Board of Regents, the people we elect to oversee our institutions of higher learning. Being a regent has always been a job that commanded and received the respect of the people, because what is more important than the education of our citizens? Especially the higher education.

Not anymore. At least, not right now.

The maturation of any city in America is often preceded by the growth, character and quality of its universities. That has been especially true about UNLV and Las Vegas. Until recently, UNLV has been a step-child in this state, subjugated by its older brother in Reno and relegated to second-class status by Northern bias or Southern indifference.

All that changed not long ago when Southern Nevadans realized what we had and what we needed — and that was a university that could bring great benefits to this part of the state if we could just get the Board of Regents on board and, frankly, out of the way.

We almost got there.

Ever since UNLV’s dynamic young president, Len Jessup, arrived on the scene, there have been a number of regents who have made it their life’s goal to unhorse his dynamic leadership and, rather than support and encourage his success, do their level best to interfere at every turn.

And, now, Las Vegas is faced with a choice.

We can support Jessup’s vision for a top-tier academic university that will attract some of the top students in the country, many of whom will stay and enrich our community; building an unmatchable medical school which will attract the best and brightest health care professionals to our city; a best-in-class football stadium to help vault us to the top of the athletic heap rather than continued wallowing near the other end; a faculty at the top of its game and a student body that is growing every year toward one of the most diverse and successful universities in the nation.

Or, we can do just the opposite.

It is hard to say this but the opposite of Len’s vision is the path our elected regents would have us travel. And that is the long road to continued mediocrity, the same road we have traveled for far too many years, much to the delight of some stodgy neighbors to the north.

The irony is that those who are at the forefront of the moves to rid UNLV and Las Vegas of Jessup’s leadership are the very people Southern Nevadans have elected to do just the opposite.

In the midst of this past week’s frustratingly sad stories about a few of the regents’ desire to fire Len Jessup, there has been just one bright light. And that sanity shines from the mind of one of the newest members of the board, my young friend, J.T. Moran III. He understands how important Len is to UNLV and he has been willing to speak that truth with courage, in the face of conspirators who would prefer he stay silent.

The public has read the charges that form the basis of the regents’ complaints. They are but minor blips on the road to success for UNLV and barely merit any discussion when compared with all the good Len has accomplished and will in the years ahead. And frankly, they pale in comparison to the transgressions of some regents whose penchant for micromanaging — call that improper interference — and exacting some sense of revenge for some perceived social or political slight — seems to know no ethical bounds.

I have been involved with UNLV as a donor and a member of the Foundation for many years, and I can report without equivocation that the community is rallying behind UNLV’s president because it not only is the smart thing to do, it is the right thing to do. No one wants to go back to the way things were.

I saw a sign near the university that boasts 115,000 alumni of UNLV. I dare say many of them are voters and almost every one of them wants UNLV to succeed. And they see that success coming far easier and faster with Len Jessup at the helm rather than a band of misfits who can’t seem to get out of the way of progress.

Len Jessup wants to do right by UNLV. And that means he needs to stay and finish the job.

Las Vegas’ problem is also our challenge. And that is to make sure the Board of Regents, especially those who come from Southern Nevada, know that we choose leadership over whatever it is they think they are doing.

Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.