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November 23, 2014

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This desk sure didn’t come from Ashley Furniture

UNLV chief a little shy about showpiece

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In Today's Sun

UNLV President David Ashley wouldn’t let us shoot a glamour portrait of his desk, so we’ll have to describe it to you instead.

Made from a burl wood, the ornate table is roughly 7 feet long. The front, the side that faces guests, is adorned with a hodgepodge of carved designs — circles, squiggles, Greek columns.

The desk, together with a matching 4-foot-long peninsula, cost $15,736.20, an expenditure that might make UNR President Milton Glick jealous. Glick’s desk in Reno cost just $2,681.

Besides the desk, he has two square-bodied burgundy lounge chairs in his office that cost $1,771.69 apiece.

According to an account manager for Machabee Office Environments, which sold the twins to UNLV, they’re made from a natural cherry wood veneer and high-grade leather and are built to last more than 20 years.

Such lavish furniture seems out of place in Ashley’s otherwise Spartan office, sparsely decorated with old black and white photographs and maps from UNLV’s Special Collections and a framed snapshot of his partner, Bonnie Moore. The president doesn’t even have a bookcase.

“In my judgment, this is the most modest university president’s office I have seen,” Ashley said in an e-mail. “That’s okay with me.”

So why the extravagant furniture?

As Ashley related in his e-mail, a UNLV decorator showed him several tables, and “I chose the current desk because it was the most attractive.” This was shortly after Ashley started at UNLV two years ago.

When the desk arrived and Ashley discovered how expensive it was, he canceled an order the university had placed for a matching credenza/bookcase.

The story behind the chairs is similar. The decorator handled the order, and Ashley didn’t see their price until the furnishings were delivered.

The funding for the furniture, UNLV spokesman Dave Tonelli said in an e-mail, came from “unrestricted grant and contract administrative overhead recovery.”

In layman’s terms, when UNLV researchers land grants and contracts for projects, the funding agency, often government-sponsored, gives UNLV some money to cover overhead costs associated with the research.

The relationship between Ashley’s furniture and research is tenuous, but the reality is that institutions can spend the overhead money on whatever they want.

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