Ten key developments from UNLV’s first 60 years

  • A school of our own

    Today, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is a research institution with nearly 30,000 students, a law school, a medical school, a top-ranked hospitality program and more than 15 varsity sports teams. Mirroring the explosive growth of Las Vegas, UNLV rose from the humble beginnings of a sparsely populated desert outpost. In 1951, fewer than 30 students gathered at Las Vegas High School to take extension classes from the University of Nevada, Reno. Three years later, the Nevada Board of Regents upgraded the program, naming it the Southern Regional Division of the University of Nevada. As the city grew, locals wanted a place for students to call their own, and they got it in 1957, when Nevada Southern hosted its first classes on its newly acquired campus: 80 acres next to a dirt road—aka Maryland Parkway. Then in 1969, Nevada Southern University officially became University of Nevada Las Vegas. Momentum continued to grow, both in the university and the city at large, and by the end of the 1970s UNLV had surpassed UNR in enrollment—for good. –C. Moon Reed

  • Center of attention

    It seems there’s an arena everywhere you look in Las Vegas these days, but not so long ago the Thomas & Mack Center stood alone. Opened in November 1983, UNLV’s 19,000-capacity indoor complement to the already erected Las Vegas Silver Bowl (now Sam Boyd Stadium) to the east has housed Runnin’ Rebels basketball games ever since, along with other sporting events (championship boxing bouts, the National Finals Rodeo, the 2007 NBA All-Star game), concerts (Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, David Bowie, Phish) and more. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar even broke the NBA’s all-time career scoring mark—a record that still stands—inside the T&M, during a Utah Jazz-Los Angeles Lakers game. T-Mobile might be the shiniest dome in our desert, but for many Las Vegans who came of age during the ’80s and ’90s, the words Thomas & Mack will always hold special meaning. –Spencer Patterson

  • Barrick and the flashlight

    Margaret has terminal cancer, and she’s not bothering with chemo or cannabis oil. No, she’s done and over it, so she has planned an end-of-life party for her last—and we mean last—hurrah. But, per her luck, no one attends. What’s there to do when there’s no one to watch her go? And, more importantly, on what grounds is this a comedic play?

    The campus, circa 1964

    As the rest of the university celebrates 60 years, UNLV’s Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art celebrates 50. What began as a place to display the Desert Research Institute’s collection has since grown into the premier art destination in Southern Nevada. As part of the College of Fine Arts, the museum offers enrichment, activities and research opportunities to students, professors and the public. Rotating free exhibitions and lectures feature cutting-edge artists. The museum’s permanent collection includes Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican artifacts and objects created by the Paiute tribe, along with contemporary art, much of which is associated with Nevada. The Barrick Museum also houses the Las Vegas Art Museum Collection and the Nevada portion of the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel 50x50 Collection. On the other side of campus, the iconic 38-foot Flashlight sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen has been shining as a beacon to the arts since 1981. –CMR

  • A president and a vision

    The university’s longest-serving (and only female) president, Dr. Carol C. Harter, helped usher UNLV into the future. Under her tenure, the university experienced massive growth in enrollment, fundraising and academic stature, including the addition of more than 100 new degree programs, such as the William S. Boyd School of Law and the School of Dental Medicine. After 11 years in the highest office, the English professor and voracious reader stepped down in 2006 to become the founding executive director of a new campus literary center connected to the creative writing program. “As a city ages and matures, it needs these touchstones for intellectual and creative life. I think that’s what we’re a part of,” Harter says about the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute in a UNLV promotional video. “I see us becoming a world center for literature, arts and humanistic inquiry.” –CMR (Disclosure: Reed worked at BMI from 2015-2016.)

  • Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival at Clark County Library

    The city’s longest-running comic-book event returns for its 10th year with an expanded Artist Alley showcasing independent and local creators, plus panels, film screenings and guests including popular comics creators James Robinson, J.H. Williams III, Mairghread Scott and more. November 4, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Free. –Josh Bell

  • UNLV 103, Duke 73

    UNLV’s 1990 championship team

    That score from April 2, 1990 will forever be etched in our memory. Larry Johnson dribbling behind his back and around two Duke defenders to start a fast break, Anderson Hunt’s barrage of 3-pointers and Moses Scurry embracing coach Jerry Tarkanian as the final seconds ticked off the clock in Denver. Our Rebels were the best basketball team in the land and delivered Las Vegas its finest sports moment. Many believe there should be another banner alongside it. The Rebels were even better the next year, going undefeated in the regular season before falling to Duke in the Final Four, 79-77. As Hunt’s 3-pointer bounced off the back of the rim at the buzzer, it also signalled the beginning of the end for the UNLV dynasty. Amid allegations of NCAA misconduct, Tark would be forced out a season later—after 19 years, a 509-105 record and four Final Fours at UNLV’s helm. UNLV wouldn’t win another NCAA Tournament game until 2007 and has yet to return to the Final Four. –Ray Brewer

  • International renown

    In his State of the State address, Governor Brian Sandoval put forth a vision of UNLV as “the global intellectual hub for gaming, hospitality, and entertainment.” The William F. Harrah College of Hospitality is racing toward that goal. Perennially ranked among the top such programs in the country, it makes the most of its intimate connection with Las Vegas’ hospitality offerings. Students receive mentorship from industry leaders and often graduate to become industry leaders themselves. This spring, UNLV’s new Hospitality Hall will open—a 93,500 square foot building that will include an ultramodern kitchen, a student-managed café, a PGA Golf Management learning center, an event space with Strip views and, of course, classrooms. Las Vegas’ major gaming companies are all founding donors for the new building, which means they have pledged at least $2.5 million apiece. “Having a world-class hospitality facility and program will allow for the further development of the future leaders in the hospitality and gaming industry worldwide,” Station Casinos CEO Frank J. Fertitta III said in a release. The college also contains the nonprofit International Gaming Institute, which offers training and research opportunities in cutting-edge topics like ESports, gaming regulations and even new games for gambling. –CMR

  • Jazz times

    The conversation over the who has the best band in Las Vegas is frustratingly framed not by talent but by exposure and popularity. Which is why shoulders rise and eyebrows furrow when UNLV Jazz Ensemble 1 is mentioned. But it’s not important that you haven’t seen it perform yet, because in April, the judges of the prestigious Monterey Next Generation Jazz Festival did—and bestowed it top honors in the fest’s big band division, sending the UNLV students to perform at the even-more-prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival in September. After a steady ascent filled with honors from other festivals and jazz magazines, the double triumph in Monterey might stand as the crowning achievement of the 46-year old Jazz Studies Program, led by director Dave Loeb. It also has two other big bands, contemporary and Latin ensembles and several combos, which frequently display their wizardry at UNLV’s various performance spaces and Clark County Library throughout the school year—and handily prove why UNLV Jazz has the best musicians in Las Vegas. –Mike Prevatt

  • What’s in a mascot?

    UNLV’s first mascot—a Confederate wolf named Beauregard­—still graces the floor of the old gym, now the Barrick Museum. It’s one of the few remainders of an ill-conceived association that started innocently— if not ignorantly—enough. “UNLV was rebelling against the status quo, and the two schools’ mascots seemed to mimic the Civil War,” former UNLV president Don Baepler told UNLVRebels.com. “Reno had a northern-looking wolf, so we wanted a Confederate wolf.” It took 20 years to begin modernizing the university’s iconography. In 1976, UNLV retired Beauregard after complaints by student athletes. The mascot was reborn in 1982 as a frontiersman named Hey Reb!. Over the past few years, the student body has bristled at being represented by a white mustachioed mascot, and last year, UNLV’s student newspaper changed its name from Confederate battle-cry The Rebel Yell to the Scarlet & Grey Free Press. This past summer, UNLV debuted a stylized silhouette of a mountain man for a new logo, which has received mixed reviews. –CMR

  • Getting medical

    The med school’s inaugural class

    It’s a familiar joke: Where do Las Vegas locals go when they get sick? The airport! As a result of the Valley’s explosive population growth, the number of Las Vegas doctors has been largely unable to keep up with patient demand. But UNLV hopes its newly minted medical school will provide a community solution. From a pool of more than 900 applicants, 60 students were chosen based on both academic excellence and ties to Nevada. They started this past summer. In May 2021, UNLV’s inaugural class of doctors will graduate, and the hope is that they will continue their careers in Nevada. The university is building a permanent home for the School of Medicine, which will anchor the planned Las Vegas Medical District at Charleston Boulevard and I-15. Even though it’s brand new, the med school is already making its mark with its innovative use of robotic surgeries, by recruiting patients for medical studies and by participating in charity walks. –CMR

  • The most diverse school in the nation

    Last year, UNLV debuted a new slogan: “Different. Daring. Diverse.” The young, Western university strives to represent America’s vibrant multicultural future. More than half of UNLV undergrads belong to a minority group, 29 percent of which are Hispanic. UNLV serves them with a new academic center called the Intersection. For the past seven years, UNLV has landed in the top 10 of U.S. News & World Report’s Best Ethnic Diversity category of its annual Best Colleges rankings. In September, the Las Vegas school moved to the top of the list, landing in a three-way tie for first with Rutgers and Michigan’s Andrews University. –CMR

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