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April 16, 2014

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Higher Education:

Decision on Ashley wanted soon

In light of recent concerns, regents and higher education system chancellor would like to discuss future of UNLV presidency sooner than scheduled

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COURTESY of UNLV

UNLV President David Ashley speaks Saturday during graduation ceremonies at UNLV’s satellite campus in Singapore. Ashley conferred 34 bachelor’s degrees and seven master’s degrees. Some in the university community were uncomfortable with Ashley making the trip.

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Amid mounting questions about his performance and judgment, UNLV President David Ashley said Sunday he may return to Las Vegas earlier than planned, cutting short a vacation he and his wife had added on to their university-sponsored trip to Singapore.

In a brief e-mail to the Sun raising that possibility, Ashley did not specify the reason for the possible early return. Nevada’s university system chancellor, who has been one of Ashley’s most vocal critics of late, said Ashley had not contacted him about potentially ending his trip early. David and Bonnie Ashley were not scheduled to arrive back in Las Vegas until Saturday. (Read David Ashley's e-mail).

Last weekend Ashley attended the first commencement ceremony for UNLV’s satellite campus in Singapore, handing out 34 bachelor’s degrees and seven master’s degrees. UNLV Singapore opened in 2006 and has about 200 students studying hotel administration. The Economic Development Board of Singapore provided a loan to start and develop the satellite campus. Nevada has not spent any state money on it, UNLV spokesman Dave Tonelli said.

Some university officials, including several regents, told the Sun they were uncomfortable with the Ashleys’ Singapore trip because of the potential that the public would perceive it as a junket at a time when the university system was complaining about its budget cuts.

The state’s bill appears to be relatively low. The university system paid $2,334 total for Ashley and his wife’s economy class air travel. The Singapore campus is covering their lodging for the official portion of his visit. Nevada System of Higher Education officials signed off on the president’s request for $1,017 to cover his meals for six days at the system’s standard per diem rate for international travel.

Chancellor Jim Rogers said he didn’t find the cost of the trip prohibitive, nor did he find it unreasonable for the president to want to be present for the milestone commencement ceremony. What was inappropriate, Rogers said, was Ashley leaving town even after being told that his job was at risk. Rogers said he spent nearly two hours talking with Ashley about his concerns several days before the president’s departure.

Rogers said he made it clear to Ashley “that it was obvious there was a serious problem brewing and he had to do everything he could to resolve it.” Rogers added, “Instead, he has put it off for another week or even 10 days.”

One issue is the president’s wife, Bonnie Ashley. She has raised hackles with her pointed demands and orders to university staff. She e-mailed an apologetic note to Rogers and the Board of Regents on Friday, saying her behavior was motivated by her “zest and zeal” to help UNLV. (Read Bonnie Ashley's note)

At its August meeting, the Board of Regents is expected to discuss whether to renew Ashley’s four-year contract. It expires in June 2010. Given the recent controversies, Regent Mark Alden said he would prefer to discuss the contract extension sooner than August.

“We should get it done and move on,” Alden told the Sun. “You don’t want people to be unsure who is heading the ship ... you need to reassure them who the leader will be. Otherwise it’s unfair to the faculty, the students, the Board of Regents and the university community.”

Alden is one of several regents who said they believed Ashley was not responsive enough to their inquiries and concerns. Some university employees have long complained that Ashley seems disengaged and doesn’t communicate with them as much as they would like.

In preparation for the upcoming contract discussion, the board hired John Welty, president of California State University, Fresno, to evaluate Ashley’s job performance.

To date, the public portion of that evaluation has been overwhelmingly favorable, but Rogers has questioned the validity of the performance review. Rogers said he considered it an incomplete evaluation in part because it made no mention of the tension between Bonnie Ashley and UNLV staff. The evaluation also failed to fully explore concerns that Rogers said university employees have brought to his attention, including that Ashley communicates poorly with staff and is unresponsive to their concerns, Rogers said.

Regent Ron Knecht, who considers David and Bonnie Ashley to be friends as well as professional colleagues, said the president “has done a good job in general.”

But Knecht said he is troubled by some of the problems that have come to light, and when asked whether he would support renewing Ashley’s contract, Knecht hesitated to answer.

“My problem in coming to a definitive answer is that we haven’t been able to fully investigate the situation,” Knecht said. “There are issues that have arisen since President Welty conducted his review.”

Rogers, who is to give up the chancellor’s post at the end of the month, said he wasn’t troubled that the regents wouldn’t be considering Ashley’s contract until August. That gives university officials more time to scrutinize the evaluation process and take a closer look at the concerns raised by university workers, Rogers said.

“I think it’s essential that you come to a conclusion quickly, but at the same time it has to be the right conclusion,” Rogers told the Sun. “I’m going to do everything I can do to get the issue resolved by July 1, and I believe it will be.”

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