Dear University Community,
Welcome back to a new semester and a new year. Like you, I am hopeful for a brighter 2021.
Although we’re still battling the pandemic, I believe we’re closer to the end than the beginning. Still, it’s hard to believe we’re approaching one year since COVID-19 changed all our lives. I am grateful for your willingness to adapt and adjust during these unusual times. Like the 2020 Fall Semester, about 80 percent of the instruction will be remote this spring, and the remainder will be in-person classes following health guideline protocols. We are working closely with the Southern Nevada Health District and the state to coordinate distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to our campus community.
As you know, last fall I engaged in an extensive listening tour among faculty, staff, students, and community members. It gave me a good sense of how people view UNLV and their perspectives on what the priorities of the university should be. I’ll share more of your feedback from the listening tour — and some of the key strategic initiatives I want UNLV to focus on — during my State of the University address at 2 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28, which will be streamed on YouTube.
One item that came up in the listening tour was the status of our nickname and mascot. I know there are numerous opinions on both, and I appreciate the passion and interest expressed by members of the university community, as well our alumni, fans, and supporters. Multiple university administrations have debated this issue over the years and wrestled with finding a solution that works for everyone, but that’s not feasible.
Personally, I have always viewed the term “Rebels” as a strong, nationally recognized brand synonymous with UNLV. I believe the word “rebel” represents an attitude or spirit. It captures the essence of an iconic city that is unconventional and celebrates its independence, tenacity, and resiliency. Rebels have a purpose or motivation for a greater cause and are not afraid to take risks to make incredible things happen.
Our community is regarded worldwide for a rebellious attitude that reflects nonconformity and even defiance at times. That includes the origin of gaming and the evolution of the hospitality industry and its cutting edge innovations. Our largest industry is the economic engine of the state and continues to reinvent itself to deliver a total visitor experience unmatched by any other city. It also has withstood economic downturns — it’s in the midst of one now because of the pandemic — yet each time has emerged stronger.
The same can be said for UNLV. We have pushed boundaries through our history and achieved success when critics said we would fail. In recent years, that has meant establishing the only dental school and law school in the state and launching a medical school that will graduate its inaugural class this May. And, of course, the most recent example was achieving the Carnegie R1 status or “very high” research ranking — the gold standard among higher education institutions — seven years ahead of schedule. These incredible achievements have sprung from audacious goals.
I was drawn to lead this great university because I identified with its spirit, determination, and daring style. Rebels are not afraid to fail and create a new path when one doesn’t exist. For all these reasons and many more, we will continue to be known as “Rebels.”
As it relates to the mascot itself — Hey Reb! — my predecessor, President Marta Meana, essentially addressed this issue late last spring when she had a statue of the mascot removed from the main campus. Since that time, and even before my arrival, the university stopped using the mascot in the traditional areas of student recruitment and athletics. For all intents and purposes, the Hey Reb! mascot has been retired since last spring and there are no plans to bring it back. We also have no current plans to create a new mascot.
UNLV will join the likes of the universities of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Central Michigan that have no mascot — as well as the NFL's Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and New York Jets. The university also didn’t have a mascot in the mid-1970s. As UNLV continues to rise as a top public research university, we must do so in a way that represents all of our students, staff, faculty, alumni, and supporters.
The Nevada Legislature opens Feb. 1 and I do not envy the difficult task that awaits Governor Sisolak or state legislators. State revenue continues to be well below norms because of the pandemic — a trend since last spring. As you’re aware, UNLV made significant operational and capital budget cuts in the previous and current fiscal years. We’ll do our part again when the new fiscal year begins July 1, and we’ll keep you informed of any changes that result from the 2021 legislative session.
I know everyone wants to return to normal sooner rather than later, but we need to continue to exercise caution and practice preventive measures for the time being. The end of the pandemic is in sight and now is not the time to relent. While it’s still too early to know if we’ll have a traditional commencement in May, or a more traditional fall semester, I remain hopeful. One thing is certain. We’ll need to weather this together throughout the remainder of the academic year.
Thank you for your incredible patience, flexibility, and commitment to a healthy, safe, and inclusive university.
Keith E. Whitfield, Ph.D.