Las Vegas Sun

May 6, 2015

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Higher Education:

UNLV professor’s proposal to close 5 Nevada campuses is met with skepticism

The plan proposed by a UNLV professor is simple.

Still, it has vast implications for more than 114,000 students, 7,000 professors and other employees at nine colleges and universities in Nevada.

His suggestion: Close five institutions of higher education and move their students and professors to the other four, where 90 percent of students go.

It would save $50 million over two years, the professor says.

The surviving institutions presumably would be UNR and Truckee Meadows Community College in the north and UNLV and College of Southern Nevada in the south.

Driving the plan is Nevada’s perilous economy and a budget that is underfunded by about a third.

Budget cuts proposed by Gov. Brian Sandoval for higher education exceed $162 million.

Budget discussions are in the early stages, but by May — the Legislature must approve a budget by June — campus consolidation may be on the table.

The plan is the brainchild of Bryan Spangelo, a UNLV chemistry professor. A member of the Faculty Senate, he said he studied the Nevada System of Higher Education budget while serving on UNLV’s budget-cutting committee the past two years.

His plan is “a way to start the conversation, which I think has to start now,” he said.

Last week, UNLV President Neal Smatresk said higher education would have to consider declaring a form of bankruptcy known as financial exigency, a blow to the prestige of UNLV and other campuses.

“My plan doesn’t try to leverage exigency, it tries to avoid it,” Spangelo said.

The proposal has little or no support among the 13 regents, who would have to approve it.

Ten oppose or are leaning against the plan, which was circulated last week. Three say they are keeping an open mind.

Opposing regents say closing a building, let alone a campus, does not mean immediate savings and would have far-reaching consequences.

Regent Kevin Page, an investment manager in Las Vegas and vice chairman of the Audit Committee, has no position on Spangelo’s plan but shares concerns of the opposing regents.

“It’s not that simple to go from nine to four” institutions, Page said.

But if the current level of higher-education cuts proposed by Sandoval is preserved by the Legislature, regents must consider some degree of consolidation, he said.

“If, and it’s a big if, the number stays at $162 million, then we’d have to look at it,” Page said.

Regent Michael Wixom, chairman of the Investment and Facilities Committee, strongly opposes Spangelo’s plan.

“You don’t really save money with consolidation,” said Wixom, an attorney.

“Saying it’s a Rubik’s Cube doesn’t even begin to describe how complex it is,” he said.

Objections include the plan’s sketchiness, the radical nature of the cuts and the cost of maintaining closed buildings. Regents say that keeping four institutions seems arbitrary, and since more of the closed institutions would be in the north, northern regents and legislators are sure to fight mergers.

And, practically speaking, where would more than 11,000 students go, they ask. Would they be herded into already crowded classrooms? Would low-income and minority students be denied access to education?

Further, detractors point out, a mothballed building requires maintenance and security.

“You can’t just turn the building off,” Wixom said. “It’s expensive to turn it off and you need money to turn it off.”

Regent Mark Alden goes further. “It’s all about Bryan,” Alden said. “It’s ludicrous. It’s all about saving his job.” Spangelo says Alden’s comment is “an unfortunate, personal, ad hominem attack” that doesn’t address the merits of his plan.

Spangelo suggested the plan at a UNLV Faculty Senate meeting last week where Smatresk said UNLV would have to draft a budget assuming the regents would declare financial exigency.

Spangelo acknowledges that consolidating would be difficult. “No one wants to talk about reorganizing a system that took many, many years to build.”

And he acknowledges that Northern Nevada would bear the brunt of his reorganization.

Western Nevada Community College, Great Basin College and the northern campus of the Desert Research Institute would be closed and merged.

Nevada State College and the southern campus of Desert Research Institute would also close under Spangelo’s plan.

Ron Knecht, the only regent to vote last year for deep cuts in the higher education budget, said he’s against both Sandoval’s budget and Spangelo’s plan as too radical.

“But this is very early in the game,” Knecht said.

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  1. The Governor has a plan and the Chemistry Professor has a plan. Isn't odd that the Chancellor, Board of Regents and the rest of the administrators, whose job is to have a budget, do not have a budget?

    Of course there was the proposed budget that the Regents passed last year proposing increases in the budget, but I am not sure that qualifies as a plan. More like delusion.

    The system of higher education better wake up and show some leadership for a change. The students and the state need a system that is in touch with the realities of the state. The current leadership is not.

    I would be happy to donate a broom to see that this mess is swept up and tossed (no recycling for this toxic mess).

  2. Let's hear about what can be done and what is possible within the constraints before us instead of the whining.

  3. Here's a plan - recall the Governor and install Rory.

  4. The Chancellor and Regents have had the Governor's proposals for a month now. Why haven't they drafted a budget yet to implement this proposal? They make various assertions, but they have not shown the public the impacts of the proposal.

    Sound familiar? Sure it is the same strategy they are using for the UNLV stadium plan--42,000 seats, 600,000 square feet of retail space, 3,000 units of housing and no price tag.

    I think the Sun should do some investigative reports, using Freedom of Information Act to gain access to the all of the relevant documents related to budgets. Why isnt there more detail assessing the impacts and options for everyone to see? We need to go into this with eyes wide open instead of the empty assertions.

  5. Declare a financial exigency. Put the whole mess in receivership and appoint a trustee to sort it out.

    The taxpayers and students deserve better than this. Remember these were the clown that submitted a budget last fall calling for increases in their budget from the previous biennium. What planet do the Chancellor and administrators live? It sure isn't Planet Nevada 2011.

  6. revtomperl - after the recent actions of Reid the elder, I would never vote for his son again. Heck, I only voted for Reid to keep crazy Sharon Angle out of office.

  7. The public does not yet comprehend the consequences of Gov. Sandoval's cuts to education: less than half of UNLV and UNR will remain if he gets his way; and the Community College system is already turning away at least 10,000 potential students due to the last round of cuts...

    And K-12? Right now, a parent has a better chance of a good education for his/her kids in Puerto Rico and Guam than in Nevada, and further cuts will almost surely lead to lawsuits that force the state to add more support down the road.

    No matter how you cut it, what took a generation to build will be destroyed. Education is not like a business -- what's destroyed cannot be re-built overnight, and Nevada may never even approach even a satisfactory education system for the next 20 years, or longer...

    Think hard: long, and hard, about decimating public education. The consequences may be but one more step toward our society wasting away back into the desert sands.

  8. You reap what you sow.

    The majority of Nevadans elected a talking head for Governor who preaches and practices "voodoo economics."

    He pledges no new taxes, but doesn't mind raising "fees" and "tuition" for students, and shoving state responsibilities to local governments, who will have to raise taxes or face drastic cuts in police, fire protection, etc.

    Democracy is doomed if folks keep voting for morons.

  9. "The public does not yet comprehend the consequences of Gov. Sandoval's cuts to education: less than half of UNLV and UNR will remain if he gets his way"

    Hopefully, it is the half that graduates within six years.

  10. KISS...Keep it simple, stupid.

    If the ball-bearing factory is turning out little metal things that are square and triangular, you shut it down.

    Little square and triangular things don't roll.

    If the universities keep turning out Goodman, Sandoval and Krolichi ball-bearings...

    The products that the universities are pushing off their higher education, assembly lines...aren't rolling.

    Shut all of the universities down and retool for better educational, people products.

  11. Amazing the Governor runs on a platform of no tax increases. He wins by a lot. He goes ahead and submits a budget that has no new taxes and the public wants to impeach him or recall him. Be serious. He is doing exactly what he said he was going to do and a majority of votes elected him on November 2. I don't see what the problem is.

  12. No, Turri...his foundation for being elected was an outright fraud.

    There was a very logical assumption (and don't give me that impertinent ass-ume adage sound-byte) that he was a man with a plan.

    A lie of omission of this magnitude is criminal level deceit. He is receiving money for "fraudulent intent."

    The damage that will be done, if Sandoval is not removed will be immeasurable from my preliminary estimates.

    You cannot commit a "lie of omission" and still wear the superhero's Cloak of Honesty.

    And as far as "no new taxes," this guy is taxing everyone's patience and level of tolerance.

  13. Bruce:

    Care to share your preliminary estimates of immeasurable damage?

  14. @bghs1986--

    I think you will get your stadium in the end (I think some influential people want to see this happen).

    The strategy: generalizations to form a constituency. Very short on specifics for everything.