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July 19, 2019

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Regent Page sought special privileges for relative at UNLV, documents show

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Kevin Page, then-chairman of the Nevada Board of Regents, speaks with the Sun editorial board, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013.

Nevada Regent Kevin Page refused to take no for an answer in 2015 when he sought special treatment for a relative who was studying at UNLV, documents obtained by the Las Vegas Sun reveal. Instead, Page threatened university administrators with retaliation unless they met his demands.

In a collection of emails and UNLV staff notes, some of which cover a nine-day span in the summer of 2015, Page asked the university to allow his relative to take an upper-level course in the Lee Business School without having completed a prerequisite class. When administrators raised a number of concerns about waiving the prerequisite, including that it would be unfair to students who had been required to take prerequisites, Page lashed out with criticism and with the threat.

“Next semester the LBS better not play games with (student) and her getting her classes,” Page wrote in a message dated Aug. 30, 2015. “For some reason, people take kindness for weakness. I am usually very nice but, can change gears when I need to.”

Page, an investment manager who had been the board chairman from 2013 until shortly before the email thread began in 2015, remains on the board and served another stint as chair from 2018 to 2019. It appears he never faced any public repercussions over the threat, even though the emails show it was brought to the attention of the board’s chairman at the time, Rick Trachok, by university administrators who considered it an abuse of Page’s authority. Trachock, like Page, remains on the board.

After obtaining the emails, the Sun reached out to Page, Trachok and current board president Jason Geddes for comment. Page, citing a family emergency that occurred early last week, asked if questions could be emailed to him. The Sun responded by requesting an interview in person or by phone on Monday. Page never responded to that message.

Trachok and Geddes, through an administrator at the Nevada System of Higher Education, declined to comment.

The Sun also sought interviews or a statement Monday from spokespeople for NSHE and from NSHE Chancellor Thom Reilly. There was no response.

Elliot Anderson, a former Nevada lawmaker who has been critical of the regents and NSHE, said he had heard rumors about Page’s actions but had been unable to uncover hard evidence.

“I had heard rumbling about that specific situation, but I wasn’t about to make a big deal out of something I couldn’t prove,” he said.

Anderson, who now works as an attorney, said the Board of Regents operated in an insulated culture and in the past had acted as if it was immune to watchdogging from the Legislature and oversight from the judicial system. Indeed, NSHE’s attorneys have argued in court cases over the years that the regents and NSHE were an independent branch of government.

“I think for so long people over there felt as though nobody could touch them,” Anderson said.

Anderson, along with state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, sponsored a resolution in 2017 that would eliminate ambiguity in the state Constitution over the powers of the regents and NSHE, and make them accountable to the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

The resolution cleared the Legislature in 2017 and in 2019, and now will go up for a statewide vote in 2020.

The Board of Regents oversees eight higher-education institutions in Nevada, including UNLV and UNR. As a member of the board, Page would not have had unilateral authority to fire a UNLV administrator but was in position to pressure then-Chancellor Dan Klaich to remove university employees or seek a vote from the regents to do so.

Speaking on condition of anonymity out of an ongoing fear reprisal, sources familiar with the situation described Page’s actions as an abuse of his power.

The sources said Page frequently pressured UNLV administrators to relax or waive university policies for specific students — not just his family member, but friends and acquaintances. Some of those requests were granted, the sources said, out of fear among officials that Page could force them out.

But with the request involving Page’s family member, officials decided to push back for several reasons: to protect the student from taking a course they believed she wasn’t prepared for, defend the university’s academic integrity and hopefully dissuade Page from continuing to meddle.

The sources said officials were uncomfortable with Page’s request partly because he was asking them to go well beyond the university’s policy for prerequisites. The sources said there were two ways for students to be excused from taking prerequisite courses: either taking them at other schools whose credits can transfer to UNLV, or demonstrating proficiency in the subject by taking a special test.

In the emails, Page does not question that his relative had not taken the course, but he argues that the requirement should simply be overridden for her. There’s no indication that Page requested an opportunity for the student to test out of the class. Instead, he contended that the student had taken other high-level marketing courses, was carrying a strong grade-point average and had been told by the course’s instructor that he thought she was ready.

Although UNLV officials offered to help the student meet the requirements and still graduate on time, Page harshly criticized the university for not making an exception for her.

“No wonder the six year UNLV graduation rates are so low, never mind the four year graduation rates,” he wrote.

One faculty member said Page’s complaint was outrageous.

“Don’t require students to take courses, and you could graduate them in two years,” he said. “But their degree would be meaningless.”

Page also wrote that “UNLV would be better served to take the thought of ‘Top Tier’ (research status) out of there (sic) vocabulary. They are no where (sic) close to achieving ‘Top Tier’ status and it is a joke to even be hiring consultants and talking about it.” UNLV reached Carnegie R1 research status last year, joining such elite institutions as Harvard, Yale and Stanford.

In the emails and staff notes, UNLV administrators expressed concerns that allowing certain students to skip prerequisite courses would not only put those students in the position of possibly failing higher-level courses but would be unfair to students who were required to take the prerequisites. Officials also told Page that waiving the requirement could damage the business school’s accreditation.

Page dismissed the concerns about accreditation, saying he’d spoken with a friend at a “top twenty” business school who laughed them off. He also claimed a friend of his relative was taking a course at UNLV without having satisfied the prerequisite requirements.

But the sources said accreditation organizations do penalize universities for failure to maintain prerequisite requirements.

One faculty source said Page’s request was an affront to students who have taken prerequisites — especially the significant portion of the UNLV community who are first-generation college students from working-class families.

“We have kids who are working one or two jobs to put themselves through school, and they’re playing by the rules. They’re not getting special privileges,” the source said.

The faculty sources compared the situation to the recent college admissions scandal in which more than 50 wealthy families allegedly bribed coaches and purchased forged standardized tests to get their children into elite schools. A key difference, they said, was that unlike the parents involved in the scandal, Page had decision-making authority over UNLV and was trying to use it to get special privileges under an implied threat of reprisal if the university wouldn’t play ball.

The emails also prompted questions at UNLV about whether Page’s threat to “change gears” if he didn’t get what he wanted may have had something to do with Len Jessup being forced out as president in 2018.

According to sources, Jessup backed his staff in resisting Page’s demands for the prerequisite waiver.

Reilly, who was named chancellor in June 2017 and started the job two months later, has acknowledged he was first approached about the job by Page and Trachok in the wake of a botched search in which five semifinalists dropped out and interim Chancellor John Valery White removed himself from consideration, citing a rift among the regents.

In January 2018, just five months after Reilly came aboard, Jessup received a negative performance evaluation. In April of that year, Jessup announced he was leaving the university. He’s now the president of Claremont Graduate University in California.