Las Vegas Sun

September 24, 2018

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UNLV med school dean gets new contract

Updated Wednesday, May 2, 2018 | 1:03 p.m.

Barbara Atkinson

Barbara Atkinson

Uncertainty over the leadership of the UNLV School of Medicine has been resolved, at least in the near-term.

Barbara Atkinson, the founding dean of the medical school, has signed a one-year contract that will allow her to remain at the head of the school until at least the summer of 2019. The contract, which was announced during a UNLV Foundation board meeting this morning, is scheduled to take effect on July 1 and is renewable.

Atkinson’s status had been in question during recent weeks amid events that led UNLV President Len Jessup to announce he was leaving the university under pressure.

Jessup and Atkinson have been closely aligned, and both were involved in a situation for which Jessup was criticized — an agreement for a $14 million gift from the Engelstad Family Foundation toward construction of a new building for the medical school.

That agreement came with a contingency that Jessup and Atkinson remain in their leadership positions until at least 2022, which Jessup’s critics contended was an attempt to benefit himself. With the agreement extending beyond Jessup’s five-year contract, his detractors claimed it gave him leverage for a contract extension or a new work agreement.

But the foundation said the purpose of the contingency was not to benefit Jessup. Rather, it said, the agreement was put in place out of distrust in the Nevada System of Higher Education and the Board of Regents to steward the gift if Jessup and Atkinson were to leave.

The foundation withdrew the gift amid the turmoil surrounding Jessup, citing dissatisfaction with oversight of the university by the Nevada System of Higher Education and the Board of Regents. Jessup later announced that he was leaving UNLV to become president of Claremont Graduate University in California. He is scheduled to begin his duties there on July 1.

The situation left Atkinson’s supporters fearing that Nevada Chancellor Thom Reilly and Jessup’s detractors on the board would opt not to retain her. Concerns grew when Atkinson received a memo last month asking her to sign a three-month contract.

Atkinson, who is in the last year of her contract, was hired as planning dean of the medical school in 2014 and was named dean the following year.

During recent interviews with the Sun, several medical school students expressed strong support for Atkinson and said she should be allowed to follow through with her original plan to remain at the school until 2021, when the first class graduates. Atkinson also has drawn support from several prominent Southern Nevada donors.

Under her new contract, she will report to the executive vice president and Provost Diane Chase. Her salary is $547,760, a 3 percent increase over her current compensation. The increase is the result of a cost of living adjustment that Nevada lawmakers approved in the 2017 legislative session for all state employees in the higher-education system effective July 1.