Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, objected Monday to a bill that would restrict the Millennium Scholarship to science, engineering, computer and applied science majors.
Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, said SB370 is an attempt to make the scholarship "predictable, sustainable and directed at work-force development."
All qualified students would get the scholarship for the first year. But they would have to declare a major in one of those fields to continue getting it after that.
But it wasn't Townsend who took the heat. It was university system Executive Vice Chancellor Dan Klaich, who testified on behalf of Townsend's bill.
"Are you going to tell me as a member of the university system you see no merit in the liberal arts?" demanded Titus, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas political science professor.
Klaich said he agreed with Titus. "We would prefer to leave the scholarship as it is currently. But we understand if we don't do something with the scholarship, the funds are going to run out. Sustainability is a critical goal."
With current funding from the tobacco settlement, the Millennium Scholarship is projected to be out of cash anywhere from three to 30 years from now, depending on how much is put in from other sources such as the unclaimed property account.
Klaich said he envisions part of the money would still be available for "the best and brightest."
But that didn't satisfy Titus either. She said the best and brightest get other scholarships.
"The young people intended to be benefiting from this when Gov. Guinn created it, that whole middle range of students who don't have the money to go to college, now they've got nothing," she said.
Professor Jim Richardson representing the Faculty Alliance at UNR, said what the bill calls for could be very difficult to do in practice.
"This is setting up what could be called a bureaucratic nightmare to try to monitor the types of majors students would major in and it is quite glaring that the liberal arts are not listed," he said. "You're basically telling the majority of students at UNR they're not eligible for the scholarship in the future."
"The problem is money, not what they're taking," said Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas.
Townsend said later he isn't wedded to the specifics of SB370, that it is his attempt to get people talking about reasonable changes to the scholarship, which is projected to run out of money in the future.
"At the end of the day we have to start the dialog on the problem," he said. "Whether it's this or something else."
And Sen. Bernice Mathews, D-Sparks, said the scholarship was originally designed as a vehicle to help those with the brains but not the money get to college.
"We paraded minority students in front of this committee and were told they would be the ones going to college," she said. "It's sad."
The committee took no action on the measure.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.