Las Vegas Sun

April 20, 2014

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No honeymoon for UNLV boss

There's a new fine arts class at UNLV these days: the art of sucking up. People are lining up to meet incoming President David Ashley - taking his measure and pitching their agendas. In a whirlwind of meet-and-greets, all eyes are on the man who was recruited from the provost job at the University of California, Merced.

For the first month, there should be five Ashleys, said Bill Robinson, economics professor and Faculty Senate chair.

"He needs to be everywhere in town and everywhere on campus all at the same time.

"There's a lot of sucking up going on already, with people campaigning for things and trying to get the man's ear," Robinson said. "There are people who want jobs that are open, people who don't want to lose their jobs. The rumor mill is rife with who wants what."

A transitional team of faculty and administrators has been bringing Ashley up-to-date on life in Nevada politics and briefing him on current initiatives, but there's a lot he'll have to figure out for himself.

In normal times, a president might hope for a six-month honeymoon before the harsh realities of campus politics begin picking at him like so many crows.

But Ashley already is walking into a hornet's nest he never expected.

Chancellor Jim Rogers and the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents have called for a full audit of UNLV's Research Foundation after the Sun revealed questionable use of funds at the foundation's Institute for Security Studies.

The School of Dental Medicine has been embroiled in a cheating scandal.

And its fledgling orthodontics program is in a financial crisis after its private partner pulled out.

Regents, worried there may be underlying management problems at UNLV, have charged Ashley with cleaning house as needed.

Rather than enjoying a social soiree, Ashley's first encounter with the full board will be a special meeting to address issues that have all but ambushed him.

Ashley won't yet discuss them.

"It's a big university with lots of activities, and I hope these all become nonissues once they are explained," Ashley said.

Rogers and regents believe Ashley's outsider perspective will serve him well in dealing with the problems. Ashley said Rogers has told him he'll have free rein to run the university, as long as he keeps Rogers in the know.

"He has a lot to get done, and he has to manage the agenda as opposed to the community or the press managing his agenda for him," said Don Snyder, chairman of UNLV's capital campaign.

There is nervousness, particularly among administrators, about what those changes could bring. It's typical for a new president to watch his executive level cabinet turn over within the first two years, and Rogers has made some sweeping negative characterizations of Harter's cabinet as weak, yes-people he'd like to see gone.

Some top administrators, such as executive vice president and provost Ray Alden and vice president for research Paul Ferguson, have already jumped ship. So Ashley will have to do more hiring than firing at the get-go. Ashley also has to hire deans in education and dental medicine, and at the insistence of Rogers and minority community leaders, has agreed to hire a vice president for diversity.

Professors are also eager to see whether Ashley will include a faculty representative on his cabinet - a decision that will go far in determining the length of Ashley's honeymoon. Faculty don't care what he says, they care what he does, Robinson said, and he personally hopes Ashley will bring a broom.

"There's a sense on campus that we've kind of hit a wall, trying to do too many things all at once," Robinson said. " We have to make some tough choices, back up in some directions and go stronger in other directions. He has to do that."

Ashley's arrival over the holiday weekend has flustered campus workers. Do they dare take off Monday and enjoy a four-day holiday weekend if there's a chance Ashley might drop in? Several top-level administrators said they've let their staff take leave. But they'll be around, just in case. Did we mention the art of the suck-up?

Ashley, who has been described as a workaholic, said he's told administrators that he will have a life outside of campus and won't be keeping them until 9 each night.

He and his wife, Anna, have put their home in Merced on the market and rented a townhome in Las Vegas. Ashley was scheduled to drive to Las Vegas on Saturday. Anna Ashley is in Texas, where daughter Kimberlee gave birth June 9 to twin baby girls, their first grandchildren.

His schedule is booked with meetings with faculty, staff, student leaders and community members. Rogers already has Ashley scheduled to go on his annual Canadian fishing trip at the end of the month.

Rogers plans to assign Ashley and Milton Glick, the incoming president at UNR, on the same fishing boat to make sure they'll be able to overcome the north-south divide separating their two universities.

Boyd Law School Dean Dick Morgan believes the uncertainty on campus is typical when undergoing a presidential leadership change, but it forces the campus to look toward the future. "New leadership means new ways of doing things, new possibilities," Morgan said.

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