Rumor of Smatresk's $125,000 proves false

There are tips that are based on rumors and there are tips that are based on facts. Often, they are based on a sliver of partly true, partly false information.

But sometimes a rumor needs to be set straight, even if it’s not true, or else it will live on in history.

This sounded like a great tip. And I never want to discourage tips.

The TIP: Did you know that UNLV President Neal Smatresk got a $125,000 signing bonus July 1?

Well, that bum.

That means when he announced in Nov. 20 he was quitting UNLV to join the University of North Texas he was walking off with a fat bonus. Except it wasn’t true.

Well, actually, he got the $125,000, but it wasn’t a signing bonus. And he had already earned it.

Nancy Strouse, executive director of the UNLV Foundation, laid out the facts. That $125,000 was a lump sum payment from the foundation for his retirement fund, money he was owed under his 2009 contract. Yes, the foundation paid it on July 1, 2013 to the Nevada System of Higher Education to go to Smatresk, but it was not for the future, it was a fulfillment of the first contract, part of deferred compensation.

Somehow, the story tore through town that he was walking off with a lump sum he didn’t deserve because he quit.

The man may be disappointing people because he is leaving to go back to Texas, his home for more than 20 years, but he’s not taking anything he didn’t earn, Strouse said.

In the most recent contract, there was no deferred payment; he was receiving the foundation money along with the system money on a monthly basis. Strouse said he wasn’t getting anything up front.

An attorney I know is angry about Smatresk’s departure and suggested UNLV should sue the University of North Texas for recruiting him. He provided a couple of cases from business law involving tortious interference with contractual relations.

But there was no case involving a university president taking another job.

“I don’t see that anything we’re dealing with is out of the norm,” Strouse said.

Without a doubt, Smatresk made lot of money as UNLV president. His annual salary is $246,426, with a supplement of $169,997, part of that paid by the foundations and part by the university system. He also receives from the university system an $8,000 car allowance, an $18,000 housing allowance and a $5,000 host allowance The allowances are all prorated.

Total compensation: $447,424.

Smatresk, 62, has been with UNLV in various positions since 2007, so it’s not like he didn’t give the university quality time. He was executive vice president and provost when his predecessor was bumped down in July 2009. He became acting president and then got the job permanently.

Smatresk was just about the opposite of his predecessor, David Ashley, who was ripped for his lack of people skills, his lack of visibility on campus and his poor skills at fundraising. Even Ashley’s wife was criticized for treating UNLV employees harshly.

Smatresk won glowing praise for his warm personality, his fundraising and his visibility both in the community and the campus. His wife, Debbie, was charming and engaged, at least whenever I talked with her.

Since he said he’s leaving, eight female faculty members publicly complained about his lack of hiring of women and minorities. Smatresk has denied that and said he was offended by the claim. This being academia, a study is already being planned.

But by the time it’s completed, Smatresk will be long gone. He starts his new job Feb. 3.

I’m disappointed to see him go. But I’m glad he’s going of his own free will, which hasn’t always been the case at UNLV.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at or call her at (702) 383-0275.