Las Vegas Sun

July 23, 2019

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Even on the way out, Jessup is a leader

A leader to the end.

Even on the way out, UNLV’s soon-to-be former president, Len Jessup, was the leader this community knew him to be when we embraced him a little over three years ago.

He didn’t need to be as gracious and forward-looking and honorable as he was when he spoke to the UNLV Foundation Board members this past Wednesday morning — especially in front of a room full of UNLV community supporters who were still seething at the way the Nevada Board of Regents and Chancellor Thom Reilly chased UNLV’s dynamic leader out of town — but to Jessup, UNLV deserved the best of what this community could muster and not a devolution into some of our less-worthy instincts.

The UNLV Foundation is an amalgamation of some of the best minds, resources and passions of the Southern Nevada community whose responsibility it is to raise the funds necessary and provide the guidance required to help UNLV reach its fullest potential. We do that because, in the end, our community is only as strong as our university and as vibrant as the young, fertile minds UNLV graduates into the next generation of Las Vegas.

Around the foundation table sit some of the most dynamic Las Vegans who give their time, energy and experience to help grow UNLV into a top-tier university by any measurement. Oh yes, among the group also sit a few hundreds of millions of dollars of potential donations to higher learning. As best I can tell, none of those folks were forward-looking last week because the carnage that was wrought on Len and UNLV by the regents and chancellor was still evidenced by raw feelings and a sense of bewilderment. It was a feeling of “how did we let these petty people do this to our university, our city and our future?”

But not Len. Even though he will soon be off to his newest presidency of the prestigious Claremont Graduate College in California, Len was imploring the foundation members and UNLV family to focus on what was really important.

What is important is the growth trajectory of UNLV, its plans to acquire Top Tier status among the elite of higher learning institutions and its newly-minted medical school. The medical school is essential both to UNLV’s future and the Las Vegas community which, with very few exceptions, continues to rank near the bottom of almost every list that measures the quality of medical care in this country.

I don’t know exactly how the same people who caused all the damage expect to fix the mess they have made, but I do know that they will need the support of the people in that room Wednesday, as well as the community at large, almost all of whom depend upon bold leadership to make responsible choices when it comes to UNLV.

One way to start to re-establish some measure of the trust that has been broken is to change the way the regents are chosen — which is a longer-term fix — and, to put it bluntly, change the “who” does the governing — which is something that can be achieved in the short term.

Right now the best that can be said for the growth trajectory of UNLV is that it is on “pause.” There are elements of the regents — factional ones — who relish the thought of UNLV stalling while its cousin to the north continues on its upward glide. There are other members of the regents who still don’t know what happened and how their silence when their voices needed to be heard was deafening — and damaging.

And there are still others on that board who are directly responsible for the carnage.

The change that needs to happen right away is to have those responsible for chasing Jessup out of town to step aside to allow newer, younger, less-entangled minds to set a different leadership tone. To do less is to encourage those currently on the sidelines of UNLV’s growth story to sit this one out, to wait for the inevitable change to come and to keep their money and their hands in their pockets while UNLV flounders.

That is not what Len wants and it is clearly not what he encouraged UNLV supporters to do. But it is the place where so many people find themselves — absent a clear showing from the regents that they understand the damage they have created.

Sure, people can wait until the next elections and impose their collective will on individual regents, but that will only serve to forestall the time when UNLV can start to climb out of the hole in which we find ourselves. But the better course is for the regents who made the mess to recognize their complicity and step aside, far enough at least to allow others to do the important work in their place.

I saw in that room full of foundation members and UNLV family a number of leaders who want to do what is right, no matter how much they want to strike at those who have done UNLV wrong. In that regard, they should take their cue from Len Jessup.

He told everyone to move forward, to focus and to not lose sight of what is important — UNLV and its mission to educate young people. He is moving on to California, although his heart and mind will remain a Rebel for a long time.

The least we can do and that which we all must do is follow his lead one more time. And if we can’t do that — especially the regents — then we should just get out of the way. UNLV and Southern Nevada have places to go — together.

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