UNLV minds its business

Bruce Spotleson

Bruce Spotleson

It didn’t quite offset all the recent budget cuts, but the impact of the Lee family’s $15 million gift to UNLV’s business school can hardly be overstated — even a year later.

Coming at a time when state funding for our local university was getting whacked by tens of millions of dollars, the school’s largest-ever private donation in support of faculty endowments both revitalized and renamed the business school.

Most of the money will fund new professor positions for an eight-year period. Scholarships and a lecture series also come with it.

The Lees’ gift pointed the business school toward a bright future. So it was a bit ironic that a short time later, UNLV said goodbye to its dean, Paul Jarley, who left for a job in Florida.

The university announced it would conduct a nationwide search for the right replacement. But recruiting takes time and the right candidate didn’t materialize. It became apparent that an alternate plan was necessary.

So in July, the university asked Percy Poon, a Hong Kong native it first hired as an assistant professor in 1989, to step in as interim dean. It was a reasonable course of action. Poon and the university knew each other well.

And Poon has recognized the need to keep things moving forward at the business school, which includes the Lied Institute for Real Estate Studies, the Center for Entrepreneurship and the Center for Business and Economic Research, well-branded entities that generate data used regularly by elected officials and business leaders.

“But we want to be more than just researchers,” Poon said recently. “Research is nice, but it’s not the whole picture. We want a faculty that is well rounded but also committed to the university and the school.”

More than ever, the focus for today’s educators needs to be on students, Poon said. After that, on innovation. The school already is building unprecedented partnerships with UNR. Poon wants to build on the momentum.

“We want to differentiate from other business schools,” Poon said. “Do what will make us unique and create programs that a student or alumni or folks from the business community can look at and know exactly what they are. And they can actually be a part of the program.”

Typically, it takes a while for an endowment to generate funds. After years of watching his school be cut to the bone, Poon is ready for the better times.