Chancellor Thom Reilly is speaking on the record for the first time about an ongoing controversy involving UNLV President Len Jessup, saying he’ll proceed with a public report about Jessup’s performance and wants Jessup to immediately hire a chief operating officer.
The announcement comes a week after Jessup told the UNLV community he was looking for other job opportunities, but also appears to indicate Jessup’s departure may not be imminent. In it, Reilly offers a broad description of a job evaluation Jessup received Jan. 19 and that was discussed Jan. 29.
“In that evaluation and in our subsequent meeting I outlined, what I believe, were his accomplishments and successes and the areas he needs to address,” Reilly said. “Specifically, I informed him of my concerns with UNLV’s operational deficiencies and how those problems were an impediment to achieve our shared strategic goals, including recognition as a top tier research institution.”
Reilly said he intends to proceed with a more public performance review scheduled in the fall, a year before Jessup’s contract is set to expire. Reilly is set to appoint a four-person committee comprised of a faculty member and three community members who will gather input from students, faculty and the community about Jessup’s performance.
The process includes the preparation of a public report that will be presented to the Board of Regents in Las Vegas.
Kevin Page, chair of the Board of Regents, indicated the board was not planning to call a “personnel session” where Jessup’s performance would be discussed and where Jessup could potentially be fired.
“The Chancellor has not asked for a meeting of the Board to review the President’s performance and, as Chair, I have no intention at this time of calling a meeting on this issue until the process the Chancellor has initiated is completed,” Page said in a statement.
Reilly also said he and Jessup agreed to work collaboratively to hire a chief operating officer for his team.
“We believe it is imperative for UNLV, and in his best interests to take this step immediately,” Reilly said.
A spokeswoman for Jessup didn’t immediately answer questions about the suggestion of adding a chief operating officer, how Jessup’s job search was going and whether he intended to stay on board through the duration of the public review process.
The message comes as Jessup has faced scrutiny for signing an agreement with a donor that conditioned a $14 million gift on Jessup and Medical School Dean Barbara Atkinson staying in their positions for at least three years after the duration of their current contract. The donor, the Engelstad Family Foundation, said last week that it was revoking the donation in light of uncertainty about Jessup’s job.
A legal opinion drafted for the Nevada System of Higher Education indicated such a condition in a contract, which was allegedly done without knowledge of the regents, could constitute a breach of ethics laws and made for “appalling optics” because it was signed after Jessup received a negative job evaluation.
One expert in university philanthropy told The Nevada Independent such a clause in a contract is “extraordinarily rare” because hiring and firing decisions are made by regents and not by donors.
“Faculty and administrative positions are institutional decisions and then they’re related to the governance of the institution and there are systems and processes in place that universities typically are going to follow,” said Dr. Tim Seiler, former director of The Fund Raising School at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.