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July 26, 2014

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Higher education:

Bonnie Ashley will not be part of the regents’ discussion

Image

Steve Marcus

Then-UNLV President David Ashley and his wife, Bonnie, attend an exhibit opening in February 2009 at UNLV.

When the higher education system regents meet Friday to discuss whether to keep David Ashley as president of UNLV, they can’t talk about what some say has been his biggest problem — his wife.

The former chancellor, Jim Rogers, and some regents wanted the public hearing to include an airing of Bonnie Ashley’s interaction with UNLV staff and the way that affected and reflected on her husband’s job performance.

But the system’s lawyer has warned that talking about “the university first lady,” as she used to call herself, would be illegal unless Bonnie Ashley either signed a form acknowledging that she’d be discussed or was formally served with written notice that the discussion would take place. She refused to sign the form and avoided the process servers last week, officials said Tuesday afternoon.

Public notice laws require that the notice be served at least five days before the discussion at a public meeting, and in this case that deadline expired days ago.

Bonnie Ashley’s dysfunctional relationship with some of the UNLV staff and her husband’s reaction to it are barely mentioned in the president’s evaluation. It notes that her communications with staff made them feel threatened and that rather than intervening, Ashley told them to work it out themselves.

The issue was added to the final report only after Rogers called the evaluator and demanded its inclusion, Rogers said.

In mid-June, in his final weeks as chancellor, Rogers urged the regents to fire Ashley. Rogers cited the university president’s failure to properly handle months of conflict between university staff and Bonnie Ashley as evidence of why UNLV needs a new president.

David Ashley counters that his wife should never have been dragged into the evaluation.

“I believe this is my evaluation,” Ashley says. “I think it’s important that it is my presidency that is evaluated.”

Ashley indicated he agreed with his wife’s refusal to sign the form to allow her to be discussed. He also made it clear that the decision was hers alone to make. He also said she did not hide from the process servers.

So what does all this mean for Ashley’s future? The report prepared by the outside evaluator is generally positive. If regents can’t hash out the issues related to his wife Friday, does that mean they have to extend his contract?

Not necessarily. Regents say if they don’t get the information they need Friday, they might call for another meeting or address Ashley’s contract at their next regularly scheduled meeting in August.

Ashley says if Friday’s hearing had been slated for a later date, that would have been fine with him. He would have had more time to prepare. He said he hasn’t had enough time to consult with a lawyer, for example.

But he also says, in essence, that he will be ready to fight it out with Rogers in front of the regents at the end of the week — Ashley vs. Rogers, sans Bonnie.

The UNLV president says he’s open to discussing how he handled the situation related to his wife as part of his wider evaluation, but he doesn’t want his evaluation sidetracked by one sensationalized complaint.

“A lot of this is drama that was played out in public rather than the substance of my performance,” he said.

His wife early last month apologized for the distress she caused the staff, attributing it to her “zest and zeal” to put UNLV’s best face forward. She wrote that her rude communications were only in response to disrespect from staff.

“That is her answer to the question and I think that says it all,” Ashley said.

His wife “resigned” from official hosting duties and with that, her official connections to the university were cut off.

The Ashleys considered that the end of the issue, but their reaction only further highlighted the problem for Rogers and some of David Ashley’s critics.

A university president’s spouse traditionally plays a role in the public image of the university, they say. When candidates apply for a position as head of a college, it’s typical for their spouses to be vetted as well. Bonnie Ashley hasn’t passed muster and that reflects poorly on her husband’s performance, they say.

Rogers says the UNLV president has never taken the problem as seriously as he should have and that his handling of the various aspects of the conflict exposed a fatal flaw in Ashley’s leadership and management skills.

“I told him his wife issue was going to cost him his job and his career,” Rogers says.

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