Ron Knecht: No need to cannibalize colleges and DRI
March 31, 2011
As the regent who has led the fight against closing, breaking up or merging any Nevada colleges or the Desert Research Institute, I write to explain what has so far been decided on this issue and to discuss recent legislative incursions in this matter.
When Gov. Brian Sandoval announced spending cuts in January, the Nevada System of Higher Education needed to plan for those cuts, while seeking better outcomes. I support his opposition to increased taxes, but I also advocate that his proposed NSHE cuts be mitigated by making other spending areas that have continued to grow fast now bear their share of the cuts.
The board instructed our institutions to present plans to meet the governor’s proposed cuts. Considering the depth of these cuts, we also directed the chancellor to present options involving closing, breaking up or merging institutions. Repugnant as they are, it would be imprudent to dismiss those options without a look.
After somewhat incomplete budget reduction plans were presented in March, it was clear that the governor’s proposed cuts could be better accommodated by reductions at each institution than by cannibalizing any of them. So, at our March meeting, I moved to discontinue consideration of all such options. Some other regents expressly agreed that the destructive options are unnecessary and would be worse than institutional cuts, and the motion passed, 8-5.
Besides recognizing that such options would be more destructive to NSHE’s instructional, research and public service missions, we also considered the turmoil, panic and lost productivity that keeping them in play was causing among students, faculty and staff. We wanted to minimize the human cost and productivity losses in the process.
Last week, a legislative committee directed NSHE staff to bring it complete detail on all options, including the cannibalistic ones, before the regents meet in April. As a result, two concerns that had previously circulated were amplified.
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The first concern is that tax-and-spend partisans may want to keep in play the destructive options to pressure the governor and Republican legislators to support increased taxes. The second concern is that our two universities may be promoting these options to mitigate their own cuts, even though budget processes already favor them over the rest of the
From what I hear, I could not tell anyone to ignore these concerns. However, I hope that legislators are motivated only to reassure themselves by reviewing the details that the board’s decisions are sound. Also, by considering the damage the proposed cuts will do to higher education, they may see the logic of finally making budget sectors that have grown fast finally face their share of cuts.
In any event, the board’s adopted position remains that closing, breaking up or merging any of our colleges or DRI is, for very sound reasons, not being considered. Faculty, staff, students and others concerned that our colleges and DRI are being used as pawns in political games or unreasonably threatened to be sacrificed for our favored institutions should contact their regents and legislators to complain.
• Economist Ron Knecht, of Carson City, chairs the Regents’ Business and Finance Committee.