Colleges won’t close, cuts run deep
Cheers erupted when regents voted Friday to remove closing or consolidating colleges from their list of considerations in preparing for proposed budget cuts of $162.4 million.
“We’re safe, we’re safe,” exclaimed Western Nevada College student Chrislyn Friestad.
The vote came after nearly seven hours of discussion during the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents meeting at WNC to address the governor’s proposed budget.
Nearly 40 people spoke to the board during public comment, most of them pleading to keep all institutions intact.
Among them was Jill Derby, who had served on the board for 18 years. She urged them to maintain each institution and recognize that each has its own culture.
“Whatever the possible dollar savings might be, it pales in comparison to the disruption it causes,” she said.
Regent William Cobb said the decision sent the wrong message.
“I’m disappointed by the applause,” he said after the 8-5 vote. “I’m afraid we’re communicating loud and clear to the Legislature that we can absorb the cuts in the governor’s budget. That’s exactly what we don’t want to be known.”
Board chairman Dean Leavitt said the board had a fiduciary responsibility to consider all options.
“It’s a facade,” he said. “It’s a ruse to sit here and ignore the current situation. This is the budget we’ve been presented.”
Instead of closing and consolidating, presidents from all colleges and universities set forth alternative plans for slashing budgets.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, President Neal Smatresk called it a “killing ground.”
Milton Glick, president of the University of Nevada, Reno, said it is the worst he’s seen in his 50 years.
“I’ve seen good years, and I’ve seen bad years,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like we’ve been discussing this week.”
To meet the $59 million reduction set forth Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget, Glick said, the university will have to hatchet academic programs, which have largely been protected up until now.
“We have so weakened the infrastructure,” he said, “the academic programs cannot fulfill their responsibilities.”
One of the largest programs hit there will be Cooperative Extension, with a 72 percent reduction.
Western Nevada College President Carol Lucey said fears of closing the school or consolidating it with other Northern Nevada community colleges sent the campus into a state of chaos.
“My plan funds the $3.5 million cuts without doing anything crazy with the campus,” she said.
However, on the chopping block at Western Nevada are all satellite programs. The first year calls for closures of rural centers in Fernley, Hawthorne, Lovelock, Smith Valley and Yerington.
The second year plans for reduction in services or closures in Douglas County and Fallon.
Lucey said the college hopes to work with leaders and educators in those communities to find a way to work together to preserve those programs.
All proposals included salary and staff reductions, cutting classes or degree programs, and a fee and tuition increase of at least 10 percent.
Kyle George, a student at UNLV and president of the Nevada Student Alliance, said he spoke on behalf of the 115,000 students enrolled in Nevada colleges and universities in opposing tuition increases.
“After three or four years of budget cuts and fee increases, we’re saying no more,” he told regents. “These are select taxes on a select group of people, and we will no longer singly shoulder this burden.”
Regents reminded the audience that they did not determine the budget. The governor proposed his budget, then the Legislature will work up a final plan.
“I hope those who spoke today also speak up at the Legislature,” said regent Michael Wixom.
The budget process will continue at the April 8 Board of Regents meeting.