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Prolific philanthropist, education advocate dies

  • Article by: MARTIN GRIFFITH
  • Associated Press
  • June 15, 2014 - 10:40 PM

Jim Rogers, a philanthropist and education advocate who served as chancellor of Nevada's higher education system from 2005 to 2009 without pay, died Saturday evening at his Las Vegas home after a bout with cancer. He was 75.

Rogers also was the owner of KSNV-TV, the NBC affiliate in Las Vegas, and oversaw the growth of Sunbelt Communications into 14 TV stations in five Western states. Sunbelt now is known as Intermountain West Communications Co.

In 2007, Rogers said he was worth about $300 million and had donated some $275 million to universities, including $60 million to schools in Nevada. In 2000, he was named among the nation's top 12 philanthropists by Time magazine.

He graduated from the University of Arizona law school in 1962. The school was named for him after the gift he pledged in 1997 became the largest ever given to a law school at the time. His donations also helped establish the law school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"Jim and I were contemporaries while practicing law, and what a terrific lawyer he was," U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement. "And his talents were not limited to law. What he has done in education is superb. His philanthropic endeavors are unsurpassed in the state of Nevada."

As chancellor of the University of Nevada system, Rogers fought for increased education funding and sought to shake up the system to improve it.

He criticized Nevada's tax policy and called for personal and corporate income taxes to help pay for education. His clashes with UNLV President Carol Harter and University of Nevada, Reno, President John Lilley forced them to quit. He supported a proposal to have university regents appointed instead of elected.

He also donated his salary back to the university system.

Gov. Brian Sandoval said Nevada "lost one of its most outspoken and fearless advocates," citing Rogers' national recognition as a philanthropist and business leader.

"Jim dedicated his time and resources to advancing our education system and as chancellor of higher education, was fierce in his commitment to make sure our students had the resources they needed to succeed," Sandoval said in a statement. "Jim's legacy will live on in the many lives he touched throughout his truly remarkable career."

Critics branded Rogers as abrasive and opinionated, but he said he simply sought to get the best from himself and others around him.

"I'm very demanding of other people and myself," Rogers told the Las Vegas Sun upon retiring as chancellor. "I do have a very short temper, and I wish I didn't. But that's the way I am. ... At the same time, I'm consistent and I expect the people I work with to meet high expectations.

"I've got one shot going through this life. I want to make sure I do as much as I can," the Las Vegas High School graduate added.

In 2010, Rogers was honored by the Nevada Board of Regents with the title of chancellor emeritus and awarded its highest honor, Distinguished Nevadan. Last year, he received the President's Medal from UNLV.

"Jim was an outstanding advocate for higher education and a great friend," said Kevin J. Page, chairman of the Board of Regents. "He made it his personal mission to fight for higher education funding when he was chancellor and continued that work after he returned to the private sector. Improving Nevada's education system was Jim's way of giving back to the community."

University Chancellor Dan Klaich said that while some may have found Rogers challenging to work with, he enjoyed their collaboration.

"Jim abhorred mediocrity and loved this state with every fiber of his being. That is a legacy each of us should try and live up to," Klaich said in a statement.

Rogers' survivors include his wife, Beverly, and three children from a previous marriage.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

© 2014 Star Tribune