UNLV School of Medicine Dean Barbara Atkinson announced Wednesday that she would step down from her position, transitioning to an advisory role within the school on Sept. 1.
Her contract was renewed last year, and Atkinson had said previously that she wished to stay on board as dean through 2021 to see the first class of medical students graduate from the nascent school.
In a statement, she reiterated that commitment, saying “it’s always been one of my goals to watch our charter class graduate.”
Atkinson was first brought on as a planning dean in 2014 before taking over as the school’s founding dean a year later. But her employment at UNLV became mired in a broader controversy in 2018, after a contract came to light that showed a $14 million donation to the medical school would hinge on the continued employment of both Atkinson and former UNLV President Len Jessup through 2022.
A Nevada System of Higher Education lawyer said in a memo that the agreement raised serious ethics questions about Jessup, calling the optics of the situation “appalling.” Jessup denied any wrongdoing and blamed his eventual departure from the university on “personal and professional attacks” from the Board of Regents and system Chancellor Thom Reilly.
Atkinson has said she believed there was nothing wrong with the agreement.
The medical school has since been locked in a long-running effort to build a new, multi-million dollar building meant to be a cornerstone for the fledgling program. Original plans for a $200 million facility and a more modest $50 million medical library have both been scrapped, as the university now pursues a $125 million building funded largely by bonds.
As a search for Atkinson’s permanent replacement begins, an announcement on an interim dean is expected soon.