Lots of drama, no accountability at UNLV


UNLV President David Ashley is about to lose his job, and one of the biggest reasons why can be boiled down to this: When the school's drama queen and its queen of political correctness were burning bridges, destroying good will and embarrassing the entire campus, he did nothing to stop them. In fact, he lent them his full, unconditional support.

He simply respected them too much to intercede.

The drama queen is his new wife, Bonnie. She clearly saw their nuptials as a promotion to the co-presidency of UNLV and a license to treat staff like dirt.

The queen of political correctness is UNLV's vice president of diversity and inclusion, Christine Clark. Since her hiring in 2007 as a member of Ashley's Cabinet, Clark has made a mockery of her office by bombarding the diverse, tolerant campus with demands for diversity and tolerance, and by trying to create an unconstitutional speech code that trashed the principles of free thought and academic freedom.

Ashley knew both women were overstepping their bounds and running roughshod over people from all quarters of the university. In response, he provided an utter failure of leadership: He refused to correct their mistakes or hold them accountable. He sent a message to the entire higher education system that he would do nothing to rein in two people who directly reflect the integrity and values of his administration.

He believed doing so would make him a chauvinist.

"I can tell you that I respect women too much, especially my wife, to consider such a request remotely appropriate," Ashley told the Las Vegas Sun last week via e-mail (he doesn't care much for the Review-Journal). " 'Controlling my wife' is an offensive concept that demeans women."

Never mind that Bonnie Ashley herself has had no such worries about demeaning Ashley's charges. Among the nasty comments she has made to staff over the past six months via e-mail:

-- "How dare you. ... I do not expect to be given 'advice', I know right and wrong and will not put up with any more of the disrespect. Period."

-- "We appreciate what you do, but you need to remember who works for who."

-- "I should not have to tell you this ... you do NOT argue with the first lady nor yell at her to let you do your job ... that behavior is completely unacceptable."

-- "I thought you were to protect your President and First Lady from anyone trying to sabatoge the office. ... Any other University would not disrespect their First Lady this way. That's all I have to say."

-- When it was suggested that she park her car in a reserved space designated for the "president's guest," she told one UNLV employee, "I will NEVER be parking in the 'president's guest' spot ... that's insulting."

Clark also has had free reign on campus. When it became clear to faculty that Ashley would do nothing to quash the "bias incidents" speech code she constructed over their clear objections -- even from minority faculty -- they had to go to the ACLU and the media to get it killed. The policy, which would have required campus police to respond to calls of feelings hurt by free expression, finally was thrown out this month.

But Clark has plenty of other ideas on how to annoy faculty and staff at taxpayer expense. One of her office's more recent projects, completed and distributed in April, was the 2009 Faculty of Color and Professional Staff of Color Directory, which segregates UNLV employees who identify themselves as minorities from campus whites. Many faculty have complained to me that the directory is racist at its core.

Yet Ashley offers not one word of criticism or caution for either. Last week, he said "I am extremely appreciative of all that Bonnie does for the university," and an April memo addressing the disastrous speech code urged Clark to "continue her leadership in developing this important campus policy."

How bad does Ashley look to Chancellor Jim Rogers, regents and scores of UNLV faculty and staff right now? Think of George W. Bush, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, telling his FEMA chief, "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job!" Yeesh.

Ashley met with Rogers on Thursday afternoon to discuss his job performance. Rogers clearly isn't hopeful that an Ashley presidency can be salvaged. "I have great doubts about the ability of the system and him to go forward." Rogers said Ashley promised to put a stop to his wife's outrageous behavior, but "I don't think he can," Rogers said. "I think he's insensitive to the problem. I don't think he understands it."

Ashley is a stereotypical politically correct academic. He didn't want to offend anyone by telling two women creating a trail of toxic waste spills to knock it off. (If they were men, it would be perfectly OK to can them.) And his inattention lays bare how dysfunctional the UNLV campus has become, from top to bottom.

Thankfully, it looks like Ashley's liabilities will be shown the door with him as part of a much-needed housecleaning. Obviously, Bonnie Ashley would go away, but there is growing support within the university system to kick Clark back to a faculty position, where she can do less damage. The whole mess will hang like a storm cloud over this week's Board of Regents meeting at the Desert Research Institute.

Why do I get the feeling the drama is only beginning?

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is a Review-Journal editorial writer.

 

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