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November 15, 2018

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Analysis: Chancellor’s announcement appears to ease pressure on UNLV’s Jessup

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UNLV President Len Jessup speaks during a groundbreaking on a retail/parking center across from UNLV that will be the site of a new parking garage, headquarters for UNLV’s police force and space for shops on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016.

Updated Tuesday, March 20, 2018 | 3:10 p.m.

Days after it was revealed that a faction within the Nevada Board of Regents was pressuring UNLV President Len Jessup to leave the university, the third-year president appeared to get some breathing room today.

Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Thom Reilly announced that a pivotal evaluation hearing for Jessup would not be held until this fall, indicating that Jessup would be retained until then. In addition, Regents Chairman Kevin Page announced he was not planning to call a meeting to discuss Jessup’s retention until Reilly had finished his evaluation process, further indicating that Jessup is not under immediate threat of being pushed out.

Reilly also said he and Jessup would work together to hire a chief operating officer — an administrator who would ostensibly help resolve management issues that have prompted some regents to publicly criticize Jessup.

Reilly’s announcement came after a flurry of news stories last week revealing that Jessup was in danger of being ousted. Those stories, coupled with reports that Reilly had given Jessup an unfavorable job evaluation, prompted speculation that the regents were planning to schedule an evaluation hearing soon to either fire Jessup or hound him into resigning.

Until today, Reilly had yet to weigh in publicly.

In his announcement, the chancellor confirmed that in a January evaluation, which Jessup had requested while negotiating his five-year contract, he had expressed concerns to Jessup about “operational deficiencies” at UNLV.

Reilly didn’t specify those deficiencies in his statement, but Jessup’s detractors on the Board of Regents have raised concerns about a number of issues, including cost estimates for the UNLV medical school building, his signing of a $14 million gift for the building that was contingent on Jessup being retained until 2020, and the university’s response to a discovery that a dentist in its School of Dental Medicine had reused equipment intended for single use in performing dental implants.

The turmoil led Jessup’s supporters to fear he might be ousted as early as the end of this semester. Jessup issued a statement saying he was looking for opportunities elsewhere, further fueling those concerns.

In his statement today, Reilly said Jessup’s evaluation hearing would be held this fall. That hearing, which will be held before a seven-person committee comprising three members of the community and four Reilly appointees, will take input from students, faculty and the community. The committee will present a public report for the full Board of Regents to consider at a hearing in Las Vegas, Reilly said.

Page said in his statement that public statements by individual regents “do not constitute action by the board.”

“We hired the chancellor to lead the system, which includes supervising the presidents of each of our institutions,” Page said. “As chair, I do not have any intention of circumventing the Chancellor’s role. The board is committed to the success of all NSHE institutions and has that same dedication and commitment towards UNLV. We support the UNLV community, students, faculty and staff and will continue do so.”

The news that Jessup was under attack prompted a large and vocal group of Southern Nevada business leaders and UNLV donors to speak out on his behalf.

Those supporters said Jessup had done an extraordinary job of leading the university, citing such accomplishments as record-breaking fundraising, an increase in enrollment, the staging of a successful 2016 presidential debate, establishment of the medical school and the signing of a deal allowing UNLV to use the Raiders stadium.

Jessup’s defenders said ousting the president after three years would leave the university struggling to attract a high-quality successor and would almost undoubtedly prompt members of Jessup’s leadership team to also leave Las Vegas.

In turn, they said, the departures would cause years of setbacks in UNLV’s initiatives, such as fully building out the medical school and becoming a top-tier research institution.

Those setbacks could have dire consequences for Southern Nevada’s long-standing efforts to diversify its economy. It’s been estimated that the medical school would make a $3.6 billion economic impact by 2030, and business leaders are hopeful that UNLV’s development of research facilities in the southwest valley and in North Las Vegas could help attract new ventures to the community.