EDITORIAL: Jim Rogers, honest man

Jim Rogers became Nevada’s strongest advocate for higher education by putting his money where his mouth was.

While students protested tuition and fee increases, demanding that someone else cover the growing costs of their classes, and while some lawmakers called for higher taxes on businesses and the public to further subsidize the price of a diploma, Mr. Rogers was pouring millions upon millions of dollars into college campuses and leveraging similar donations from other wealthy residents to bolster schools in Nevada and across the West.

Mr. Rogers, who died Saturday at age 75 after a lengthy fight with cancer, believed so strongly that a vastly improved higher education system would lift Nevada’s fortunes that he was named chancellor, working for the minimum salary allowed by law. It was during these years especially, from 2005 to 2009, that Mr. Rogers became one of the dominant public figures in the state.

Where others treaded carefully and tactfully, Mr. Rogers shouted through a bullhorn. Where others based responses on political considerations, Mr. Rogers reacted from his heart and his gut.

The Las Vegas native was no different in the way he built his fortune through ownership of TV stations throughout Nevada and the West, most notably Southern Nevada’s NBC affiliate, KSNV-Channel 3. He was passionate about the quality of his stations’ news broadcasts and their role in creating an informed electorate. That commitment to good reporting led him in recent years to abandon syndicated programming in favor of expanded news content and to hire many former print journalists.

Mr. Rogers’ mercurial style infuriated many people over the years, from employees he fired on the spot to the elected and appointed officials he attacked over various disagreements. Sometimes, he was wrong. He decried state funding reductions to higher education during the depths of the region’s economic downturn, claiming in over-the-top fashion that without more public support the cuts would destroy the system. Similar cuts were imposed at public institutions across the country, and doomsday never came.

The attorney, entrepreneur and philanthropist wasn’t above admitting he was wrong. His mind could be changed.

Mr. Rogers leaves many legacies, but none is more important than the brutal honesty he brought to discussions of local and state issues. The loss of his frankness creates a void that might never be filled.

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