CARSON CITY – Campus closures, consolidations and mergers are back on the table after the Board of Regents today undid a vote from last month to not consider campus closures, which itself followed a February vote to consider campus closures.
Many of the smaller colleges are in districts represented by Republicans.
Some Republicans consider the Regents’ move a political one. The threat of campus closures could be a bargaining chip Democrats can use later to convince Republicans to vote for tax increases.
“I’ve never seen political hayday as bad as this,” said Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, whose district includes Great Basin College. “I’m not a supporter of blackmail.”
Democrats refuted the claims.
“It’s more of a reality check that they’re going to have to take some pretty drastic measures,” said Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, the chairwoman of the Assembly Ways and Means committee.
But, she said, the Legislature is a political environment. Last month, Assembly Republicans released their own list of bargaining chips that they would trade for taxes.
“We’re fooling ourselves if we think that these decisions won’t be somewhat political,” Smith said.
The Board voted 10 – 3 to again consider closing campuses. They did not, however, vote on any actual campus closures.
Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, spoke at the meeting in Las Vegas in support of considering campus closures.
Horsford has been a driving force in putting the possibility of closures back on the table. He earlier asked Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich to develop full plans for how the universities and colleges of Nevada will absorb Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed $162.4 million higher-education budget reduction.
“I would urge you to reconsider your earlier action that took campus closures off the table as one of the implications of reduced funding for higher education,” Horsford said. “One of the realities we must face – in light of the new information on the full extent of the governor’s proposed cuts – is that if those cuts are accepted, campuses would have to close.”
The debate in the Legislature mirrored the Regents’ debate about campus closures.
“It’s hogwash, it’s politics, and I’m not in favor of it,” said Jack Schofield, a regent representing Clark County. “I’m not in favor of getting this thing back in where we can emasculate anything that we’ve worked for.”
Regent Michael Wixom, who represents Clark County, said that all they are doing is gathering information about campus closures.
“If I’m going to make an informed decision, I have to follow that process,” he said.
Regent Ron Knecht, a former Republican Assemblyman from Carson City, was the primary supporter of keeping campus closures off the table. He said it would cause undue stress and demoralize students, staff and faculty at institutions considered for closure.
“Apparently some politicians have some political battle to fight with the governor and minority party legislators and that fight is more important that those considerations,” he said.
Assemblyman Pete Livermore, R-Carson City, represents a district that includes Western Nevada College.
“I believe it’s an issue of targeted political pressure,” he said.
The Regents met in March at Western Nevada College and heard a preliminary report from Klaich that closures could save $7 to $15 million.
The Regents voted to not further consider closures at that meeting after hearing hours of public testimony during which students and faculty described how detrimental those considerations could be to morale.
Following today’s vote, the Regents will again consider all options to mitigate cuts. To that end, they also voted unanimously to support raising revenue for higher education.
The campus closures, however, appear to be more politically contentious than the unanimous vote.
“I’m a little concerned that you keep asking a question until you get the answer you want,” said Livermore.