Las Vegas Sun

September 22, 2019

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News Analysis:

Sources: Regent well versed in making demands

Kevin Page received game tickets, apparel, meals for himself and his family

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UNLV Photo Services

UNLV commencement ceremonies take place May 14, 2016, at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV traditionally hosts a festive luncheon on graduation day for administrators, faculty and distinguished guests. Sources say that Regent Kevin Page abused his official privileges by bringing a group of 10 people to the 2016 luncheon.

Between the morning and afternoon commencement sessions at UNLV every spring, the university offers a festive luncheon for the administrators, faculty and distinguished guests who sit on the graduation platform during the ceremonies.

Nevada System of Higher Education regent Kevin Page reacts to a response on Thursday, May 1, 2014.

Nevada System of Higher Education regent Kevin Page reacts to a response on Thursday, May 1, 2014.

It’s a meal fitting of a special occasion, with such options as beef rib roast filets, seasonal fruit slices and seasoned asparagus on the menu in recent years. Sources say guests are mindful that the fare is pricier than the standard banquet meal and that the cost is coming out of the university’s budget, so they generally dine solo or with a plus-one at most.

But not Nevada Regent Kevin Page.

Reportedly, Page has brought large groups to the luncheon several times, including an entourage of more than 10 people in 2016 — part of what sources describe as a pattern of abusing his privileges as a regent and violating unwritten rules of decorum.

“It’s one thing for a regent to come with a spouse,” one campus source said, “but do the taxpayers really need to be paying for Kevin Page’s entire family to eat?”

Page didn’t stop with food. Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, sources said he routinely pressed for free admission to Rebels athletic contests and other campus events for himself and his entourage, taking up seats that could have been used by paying customers, students or potential donors. He also requested athletic merchandise with no indication that he planned to pay for it.

Often, there was no asking involved. Rather, sources said, Page would simply say he needed a certain number of tickets, pieces of apparel, sideline passes, etc.

“It was not, ‘Would you mind?’ Or, ‘Could you please?’ Or, ‘Could I pay for these?’ ” one source said.

Under the regents’ bylaws, Page’s behavior wasn’t expressly forbidden. In fact, because the regents receive minimal pay — $80 per diem for every meeting and a $2,500 annual expense account — the board’s tradition and culture is to accept tickets and merchandise and attend university-related events as dignitaries.

It’s also important to note that it’s possible Page reimbursed the university. But while the Sun tried to find out by emailing and phoning Page, he did not respond. Meanwhile, university sources said they were not aware of any attempt by Page to pay for the items he was provided.

Instead, sources related the following instances of Page abusing his privileges:

• UNLV offered seating for regents and a plus-one when it hosted the third and final presidential debate of the 2016 campaign, but Page leaned on administrators to also provide seating for other members of his family. Other regents also requested additional seating, and university officials ultimately gave them seats that originally had been designated for students. After students complained, the debate commission saved the day by granting the university more student seating.

• Page used the president’s suite at UNLV home football games virtually as a skybox for himself and his family, pressing the university for large numbers of seats so often that it became a standing expectation. Space that might have been used to wine and dine donors instead went to Page’s family. Like others in the suite, Page and his family enjoyed comped meals and beverages.

• Page routinely told UNLV administrators to send him Rebels merchandise and tickets to various events without offering to pay for the items.

Those blowing the whistle on Page also point out that in 2017, he helped lead a push to establish “regent emeritus” status for members of the board, ostensibly so that the regents could continue to get freebies after they’d completed their service. Under policy approved by the board that year, regents are eligible to be considered for the title after serving 12 years.

Page has been under increased scrutiny since last month, when the Sun revealed emails from 2015 showing that he demanded that UNLV waive a prerequisite requirement for one of his relatives who was attending the university at the time. The emails showed that when UNLV administrators resisted, Page issued a non-specific threat saying he might “change gears” if UNLV didn’t give him what he wanted. The university still rejected him, which has prompted concerns in the campus community that the situation may have played a role in the controversial ouster of UNLV’s well-liked former president, Len Jessup.

Between that incident and the reports of Page’s demands for comped tickets and other items, UNLV supporters are questioning why he hasn’t been held accountable for what they see as abuses of his authority. What’s more, some contend that Page’s behavior makes him unsuitable to decide on matters related to the university.

“How can he be allowed to vote on UNLV issues when he’s on record threatening the university?” said one faculty member, speaking on condition of anonymity due to fears of retaliation. “Wouldn’t it stand to reason that he might be voting to disadvantage the school? And really, how can he be allowed to vote on issues involving any of the schools? He may be voting in their advantage, to the disadvantagement of UNLV.”

A threat kept quiet

If Page felt there would be no repercussions to him throwing his weight around at UNLV, perhaps it’s because he received nothing more than a wrist slap — and not even a public one — for what appeared to be an abuse of his authority in the 2015 incident.

Page’s prerequisite demand and threat was kept in the dark for years even though the board’s chairman at the time, Rick Trachok, was notified about it immediately after it happened. Trachok said he went to Page and told him to “drop it.”

Trachok said it was his understanding that Page backed off and that no waiver was granted.

But Trachok has declined to answer a number of follow-up questions about the matter. Among them:

• Given that Trachok indicated that he believed Page acted inappropriately, why didn’t he handle the matter in public? Regent Patrick Carter said last month that the board was not aware of the situation when it voted in 2017 to make Page its chairman. Carter said that had he known, he would have requested more information and that the vote may have gone differently. As it was, Page was elected for a second term as chair after previously serving in 2013 until mid-2015 before Trachok took over.

• Considering that Page issued a threat to UNLV, why did Trachok think it was appropriate for Page to continue to be allowed to make decisions regarding the university?

Page, a UNLV graduate, has not commented publicly on the emails. Nor did he respond to requests for comment about his requests for meals, tickets, merchandise and such.

For UNLV supporters, the ongoing silence about the matter has added fuel to speculation that Page’s threat to “change gears” was tied to Jessup’s ouster in the spring of May 2018. Jessup was pushed out amid intense public criticism over management issues that his supporters believed were overblown, such as cost overruns for the presidential debate and the discovery that a faculty member in the School of Dental Medicine had reused devices intended for single usage.

Supporters contend that a cabal of regents — Trachok, Page and current Chairman Jason Geddes — ousted Jessup as part of longstanding efforts to undermine UNLV to the advantage of UNR. They point out that Trachok and Page personally recruited the current chancellor, Thom Reilly, when the position was vacant in 2017. Trachok was leading the search committee at that time, while Page was the regents’ chairman. Months after taking over the position, Reilly gave Jessup the first negative job evaluation he had received, setting Jessup on a path that led to his resignation in May 2018.

Jessup’s departure set off a furor on campus, with several major donors announcing they were withdrawing or reconsidering gifts to the university over distrust of Reilly and the regents to manage their donations responsibly. The donors’ anger spoke to strong support that Jessup had garnered in the community.

Jessup, who had placed UNLV on a path that would eventually lead to the university achieving elite status as a research institution in 2019, is now president at the prestigious Claremont Graduate College in Southern California. Meanwhile, UNLV is on its sixth leader since 2006 — acting president Marta Meana.

Jessup has declined to comment on the Sun’s reporting about Page.

The regents’ rulebook

While there’s no definitive answer as to what role Page played in Jessup’s ouster, if any, sources say it’s clear that he broke and abused rules in his behavior toward UNLV.

Page’s demand for the prerequisite appears to be a violation of the regents code of ethics, which in part says that members should be mindful of their power and should not “attempt to intimidate or influence employees or students to gain unwarranted privileges, advantages or preferences for the Regent or for his or her family members, other individuals or business entities.”

In addition, the regents’ bylaws state that members of the board are subject to the state of Nevada’s code of ethical standards, which prohibits public officials from using their authority to “secure or grant unwarranted privileges, preferences, exemptions or advantages” for themselves, their families and their business associates.

Sources also point to another situation — this one involving Page pressuring UNLV to transfer its student-run radio station to local public radio station KNPR — as a violation of policy telling regents to understand that their role “is policymaking, not administration, and distinguishing intelligently between those two functions.”

That policy reflects the structure of higher education oversight in Nevada, in which the regents serve as the equivalent of a school board in a K-12 system. The chancellor’s office would be the superintendent’s office in that comparison, while the presidents of the universities would be school principals.

Sources say Page and other regents routinely overstep their policymaking role by interfering in day-to-day affairs and micromanaging university staff members.

Page’s focus on the radio station also appeared to be a conflict of interest, sources said, given that he did not publicly disclose that one of his superiors at work was a member of the KNPR board.

As for the comped items, those familiar with the situation say Page’s behavior ran counter to unwritten decorum and common courtesy. UNLV said that while it was common for other regents to inquire about availability, offer to pay and limit their guests, they felt Page implicitly expected them to cater to him and his family.

Page also has been exposed for questionable use of the $2,500 “hosting account” provided to all members of the board, including purchases of meals of more than $200 for himself and others.

Freebies for life

Page was appointed to the board to fill an unexpired term in January 2009. In 2010, he won election to fill out the remaining four years on the unexpired term, and then won re-election in 2014. Regents are limited to two terms, meaning he’ll leave the board next year. His district covers portions of the central and south Las Vegas Valley, including the UNLV campus.

At a regents meeting in September 2017, Page raised eyebrows in the UNLV community when he voted in favor of the “regent emeritus” designation, which two years earlier he had voted against.

Why Page had a change of heart is unclear. Minutes from the 2017 meeting show that Page had researched the matter and found that regents in some other states had adopted the title, but offer no other indication why he and other board members flipped on the policy.

A UNLV source who attended the 2015 meeting in which the emeritus policy was initially defeated said a key difference between the two meetings was that Regent Robert Davidson had left the board by 2017. In 2015, the source said, Davidson argued fervently that the regents would be self-dealing by approving the status for themselves.

“He essentially shamed them into voting against it,” the source said.

But the source said that two years later, Davidson was gone and it appeared Page saw an opening.

“The guy who was breaking the rules brought it back and got it passed,” the source said. “So now, they can all continue to abuse their privileges for the rest of their natural-born lives.”