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UNLV President Keith Whitfield (Photo: UNLV)

Engelstad Foundation Ceases Financial Support to UNLV

Trustee Kris Engelstad told The Globe, ‘Marc Kahn undermined us every step of the way and Keith Whitfield did nothing to stop him’

By Megan Barth, May 17, 2024 1:07 pm

In a scathing letter (see below) from CEO Kris Engelstad to UNLV President Dr. Keith Whitfield, the Engelstad foundation announced they would “no longer support, financially or otherwise, any initiatives, projects or future endeavors for UNLV” beyond their existing Engelstad Foundation Scholar Program.

The letter notes that Engelstad’s decision was made due to “poor and unacceptable behavior exhibited by the University’s leadership,” specifically pointing to the ongoing actions of The Kirk Kirkorian School of Medicine Dean Dr. Marc Kahn and UNLV President Dr. Keith Whitfield. Engelstad concludes that UNLV no longer aligns with the beliefs and values of the foundation or the community.

Trustee and CEO Kris Engelstad (Photo: Englestad foundation)

In a candid conversation with The Nevada Globe, Kris Engelstad laid bare the historic and current difficulties she has encountered that ultimately led to her decision.

Engelstad told The Globe:

As a Trustee of the Engelstad and a member of the NHBAC, I am only speaking for myself. 

I have had a tumultuous relationship going back to when we first started talking about building a medical school. One of the conditions of the financial agreement was that they had to retain then-President Len Jessup and Dean Dr. Barbara Atkinson, who is now a consultant to NHBAC, because of their leadership. The NHBAC was given 9 acres for the development of a medical school and a mental health facility. Within a month they got rid of them, and they broke the deal of the donation. The donation was approximately $17 million. The University then contacted the press and said I “colluded with Len Jessup.” But, the University never called me. They simply had a narrative and that is the narrative they wanted. 

We then built the medical school with private dollars for $120 million, we finished under budget and on time. If we had continued working with the University after they violated the agreement, we would still be in conversations about building it. The building was supposed to have a mental health component to it, but in a meeting with Dean Kahn, he literally said, “mental health has a stigma” so we stopped having conversations with Marc Kahn because he wasn’t interested. President Whitfield didn’t do a single thing. 

We then started getting letters from the legal department that referred to us a competitors! It became clear that they didn’t understand what a public-private partnership meant. As I thought about it longer, why would I partner with someone who is such a poor partner? They don’t acquire the building until 2030, but they want it now. You would have to be crazy to partner with someone like that. 

We had a much-needed pediatric group coming in, a mental health component, Ackerman’s autism group coming in, none of those things are going to happen now.

Marc Kahn undermined us every step of the way and Keith Whitfield did nothing to stop him. Absolutely nothing. Keith didn’t want to come to the table to have conversations or be constructive.

When The Globe asked Engelstad about the financial impact to the community and the University, Englestad said:

Dean of Kirk Kerkorian Medical School Marc Kahn (Photo: UNLV)

In total, the foundation has given the university approximately $43.5 million. But to estimate the future impact? Hundreds of millions? The loss is a more of a personal, rather than a financial loss to the community. That is worth everything. It’s human loss that is happening here. To pretend that they are interested in what is happening in the community is a stretch. 

Either take care of the community or keep your hands off of it. The donor community is small in Las Vegas. We all talk, we are all aware, and partner well in this way. The other substantial donor I know may pull donations and support, between Engelstad and this donor, we are the largest donors the university has ever had. 

People are savvy and they understand the power and impact of what they are giving, and I would be very suprised if they get new or other donors. If they do, good luck to those donors. 

It makes me really disappointed. Any other university who had donors willing to do these things would be jumping up and down. UNLV isn’t one of those universities. It’s mind boggling. 

The disfunction at UNLV is common knowledge, but many do not know how deep it goes. 

If I didn’t send my letter to a large group, and only sent the letter to Whitfield, it would have been thrown in the trash by Whitfield. 

We are going to do what was requested by Governor Lombardo and build a state blood bank, a lab, and that is the end. Now UNLV is claiming they own the 9 acres. We will sit on those 9 acres until we rest, take a break, and reevaluate.

 In a statement late Wednesday, UNLV spokesman Francis McCabe said, “The university has negotiated with [NHBAC] in good faith to reach an agreement that is acceptable to all sides,” he said. “We are disappointed by the announcement by the Engelstad Foundation but disagree with the characterization of facts from what has been a difficult negotiation. We remain ever grateful to the Engelstad Foundation for their contributions over the years to UNLV.”

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Megan Barth
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