CGU’s New President Faces Tempestuous Departure from UNLV

Len Jessup, current president of University of Nevada, Las Vegas at risk of being fired, will be welcomed to Claremont Graduate University as its new president this summer. (Photo Courtesy of Claremont Graduate University)

While Len Jessup will be welcomed to Claremont Graduate University as its new president this summer, he is no longer welcome by many at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he is currently president.

According to LasVegasNOW, a Nevada CBS affiliate, “in January, according to published reports, Jessup was advised by Chancellor Thom Reilly to find another job or risk being fired.”

The concerns Reilly had with Jessup included “practices at the dental school and fundraising and management at the medical school,” according to The Nevada Independent.

Jessup, who became UNLV’s president in January 2015, spearheaded construction on a new UNLV medical school, but costs soared well beyond expectations.

“It’s very troubling that we feel like we were told this $100 million was pretty solid [to build the medical school],” Regent Trevor Hayes said in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “To go from that to $232 million is mind boggling. This is just not acceptable.”

In his evaluation of Jessup, Reilly criticized Jessup’s poor oversight of the dental school, which led to potential safety issues.

TSL reached out to Jessup, but his office said he was unavailable for an interview.

Despite these controversies, CGU’s Board of Trustees unanimously selected Jessup as as CGU’s new president.

The selection process went smoothly due to “the combination of Len’s outstanding record of achievements with a warm and intellectually open nature that will bolster the character and traditions [of CGU],” search committee chair Donald Baker and CGU’s Board of Trustees chair Tim Kirley wrote in a press release.

The press release, which quoted an April 3 email sent by Kirley to the CGU community, described Jessup as “a gifted administrator” and a “practicing scholar” and praised Jessup for his work to enhance UNLV’s reputation.

“I’ve enjoyed many opportunities in my career, both as a professor and administrator, and I am honored and excited to join the CGU community,” Jessup said in the press release. “I am looking forward to working closely with everyone at CGU to move this excellent university to the next level in every way.”

CGU’s president of the Graduate Student Council, Marquisha Spencer CG ’18, expanded upon CGU’s reasoning for choosing Jessup.

“I think specifically that his experience aligned with our needs,” she said. “When he came to campus, there was an obvious and undeniable connection with the various constituents on the campus. He’s clearly a visionary. He has the same spirit of hope as many on the committee.”

CGU’s search committee was aware of the controversies during the hiring process, which encouraged more students to participate in the forum during Jessup’s visit. The allegations against Jessup did not change the committee’s desire to hire him, according to Spencer. Students asked about the issues, but they were generally satisfied with his answers, she said.

Reilly explained Jessup’s departure from UNLV in a statement from Nevada System of Higher Education and confirmed that he had issues with Jessup’s management of UNLV.

“It is fair to say that I have significant concerns about operational issues I have observed at UNLV,” he wrote. “Those concerns are well known to President Jessup,” he added. “We have engaged in a forthright and professional dialog about those concerns for several months — including by way of his annual performance evaluation.”

He denied, however, that he asked Reilly to leave in January.

“March 5 President Jessup expressed to me his frustrations — that he did not want to continue as president, and that he was looking for other opportunities,” he wrote. “We never had a conversation prior to our March 5 meeting about him leaving the presidency.”

Jessup attributed his departure to disagreements between some regents and himself about the direction of UNLV.

“As evidenced by the constant change in leadership in the office of the UNLV President over the past decade, the current UNLV/NSHE governance structure makes long-term sustainability a challenge for any UNLV president,” Jessup said in a letter to the UNLV community.

Jessup wrote in the letter that he was frustrated with how his departure has been portrayed in the media.

“I have expressed my disagreement consistently and have, unfortunately, been met by personal and professional attacks by the Chancellor and some Regents, unfounded and unjustified opinions, and media ‘leaks’ that appear to be calculated to damage not only me but UNLV and the UNLV Foundation,” he wrote in the same letter.

Despite the controversies, Jessup remained popular with some in the UNLV community, and his departure “generated a backlash among UNLV faculty and administrators, and among major donors,” including the rescinding of a $14 million gift to the medical school, according to The Nevada Independent.

Jessup has a doctorate in management and organization behavior from the University of Arizona, Tuscon, and earned a master of business administration and a bachelor’s degree in information and communication studies at California State University, Chico. His research examines entrepreneurship, innovation, and information technology.

Jessup’s tenure as President of CGU will begin July 1. Spencer is eagerly anticipating his arrival.

“I think there’s an overwhelming sense of excitement around the campus for the arrival of Jessup,” she said. “I graduate this year, so I’m a little bummed out that I won’t be able to work with him.”

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