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December 22, 2014

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Rogers giveth and taketh away, until he gets what he wants

Miffed at lack of support for fundraiser, he pulls diversity luncheon funds

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Las Vegas Sun File Photo

University system Chancellor Jim Rogers, speaking here to the Board of Regents, agreed to reinstate diversity luncheons just hours after nixing them.

Leaders of Las Vegas’ minority communities have met monthly over the past couple of years to munch on catered salads and sandwiches while chatting about diversity in higher education.

University system Chancellor Jim Rogers bankrolled the luncheons with tens of thousand dollars of his own money.

On Tuesday he shut his wallet, accusing some of those leaders of being “a one-way street.” He was angry that chambers of commerce for minority businesses hadn’t purchased a table at a May 24 dinner benefiting system health sciences projects. The Latin chamber had bought two $500 seats and the Urban chamber had committed to buying two more.

“I didn’t need their money,” Rogers said. “I needed their support and their participation.”

Rogers’ strong-arming apparently paid off quickly.

Leaders of the Asian, Latin and Urban chambers are scheduled to meet with Rogers this morning to “iron things out,” said Jo Ann Prevetti, Rogers’ secretary.

After Rogers’ digital message landed in more than 150 in-boxes, the Urban Chamber of Commerce committed to buying a 10-person, $5,000 table on top of the two seats the organization had agreed to purchase.

Rogers, happy with that outcome, agreed to reinstate the diversity luncheons — about eight hours after he’d canceled them. On Tuesday afternoon, the chancellor said a May 20 roundtable would be held as planned.

This isn’t the first time Rogers has withdrawn his generosity in anger. A media mogul who draws an annual chancellor’s salary of $23,660, the minimum required under federal law, Rogers plays the odd double role of leader and major donor to the higher education system.

Last summer, his family decided against giving $3 million to the University of Nevada, Reno, because of regents’ harsh comments about his leadership.

At the time, he told the Sun, “I did not turn over my balance sheet to the system. I reserve the right to do with my money what my family wants.”

Rogers’ comment on his decision to end the diversity forums was similarly pointed.

“All of life works that way,” he said. “I don’t mind doing things for people, but by God, I want something in return.”

The higher education chief announced the cancellation Tuesday morning via a curt, four-sentence e-mail from his spokesman.

That was a surprise to Rene Cantu, a Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce board member and co-chairman of the chancellor’s Las Vegas Diversity Forums.

Cantu, also vice president of multicultural affairs at Nevada State College, spoke to Rogers early Tuesday about the health sciences fundraiser. At that time, Cantu said, Rogers made no mention of plans to shelve the luncheons.

“He told me that he was not happy with the results so far, in terms of buying tables,” said Cantu, who was responsible for contacting the Latin, Asian and Urban chambers of commerce about the May 24 dinner.

Cornelius Eason, president of the Urban chamber, said his group’s decision to buy a table at the fundraiser was prompted by the desire to reciprocate for the support Rogers had long shown the chamber, and not by the pressure Rogers exerted by canceling the diversity luncheons.

Cantu declined to comment on the rationale behind Rogers’ decision to ax the forums, saying he had yet to speak to the chancellor about the issue. But Cantu said he viewed the luncheons and the health sciences fundraiser as “two very separate things.”

“I don’t see a relation,” Cantu said.

Rogers does. The chancellor has made it clear that improving college health sciences programs is a major priority.

Toward that end, the system recently hired a $415,000-a-year executive vice chancellor to coordinate and foster collaboration among health-related programs at higher education institutions across the state. The system is also planning new buildings to house nursing and other disciplines in Las Vegas and Reno.

Rogers said support from the chambers, which “represent a huge part of the population,” demonstrates the importance of health sciences.

Michael Wixom, chairman of the Board of Regents, which governs higher education, declined to comment on the roundtables’ abrupt demise before speaking to Rogers.

The chancellor’s volatile personality has frustrated regents in the past. In early 2007, he quit for 36 hours after submitting a two-word memo to his bosses: “I quit.”

And when it comes to Rogers’ using his personal fortune as leverage to get what he wants, Wixom and a few other regents reached Tuesday seemed resigned to accept Rogers’ right to put his money where he pleases.

After hearing that Rogers had canceled the forums, Regent Cedric Crear, an outspoken proponent of diversity, said the chancellor “can do what he feels is right. It’s his dime.”

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