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October 31, 2014

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Higher Education:

Regents back chancellor’s order to present united front on funding formula

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AP Photo/Cathleen Allison

Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, testifies Monday, June 6, 2011, at the Legislature in Carson City as lawmakers wrap up their 120-day Legislative session.

Gag order or procedure?

That's the question at the heart of the debate over Dan Klaich's recent edict to Nevada college and university presidents.

Klaich, Nevada’s higher education chancellor, told college and university administrators to remain silent over any potential criticisms they may have about a proposed new funding formula for the state's public institutions of higher education, according to Las Vegas Sun columnist J. Patrick Coolican.

Speaking out against the controversial new formula could get administrators fired, Coolican reported.

While some saw this as a gag order — ubiquitous in the corporate and political realms but not in academia — Nevada's higher education leaders saw Klaich's edict differently.

The Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents sets the policies and budget for the state's seven colleges and universities. The regents are moving forward with Klaich's new funding formula, which they argue is a more equitable way of distributing state funding among its seven institutions.

Although final figures haven't been calculated yet, colleges and universities in Southern Nevada could expect to receive a bigger slice of the $438 million in state funding for higher education under the new formula. How much and whether that's equitable enough for Southern Nevada institutions, which educate the majority of Nevada's college students, remains to be seen.

A legislative committee was tasked to come up with the funding formula but eventually went along with Klaich's proposal. The Legislature is expected to debate and act on the funding formula this session.

Southern Nevada regents — who represent the College of Southern Nevada, Nevada State College and UNLV — approved of Klaich's proposed new formula and his instructions to college and university presidents to toe the party line.

The regents echoed Klaich's comment that there has been plenty of time for discussion at board and legislative committee meetings. However, when it comes to the Legislature, regents and presidents must present a united front, they said.

"We don't encourage presidents to go outside of the system to go get money," Regent Robert Blakely said. "That's going to get different stories told, and the Legislature will get confused. It's in our best interest to speak as one voice."

In the past, college and university presidents individually went to bat for their institutions, regents said.

"We didn't always have a uniform message for the Legislature," Regent James Dean Leavitt said. "That created a lot of problems."

"It was chaos," Regent Cedric Crear said. "Institutions were fighting and undercutting each other. It wasn't productive for the system. (To the legislators,) it didn't seem like we knew what we were doing."

Under former Chancellor Jim Rogers, who consolidated the power of his office, the board and its institutions began to speak as a "unified voice," regents said. The board's procedures were changed to ensure that all communications were to go through the system office first.

"It isn't that we're telling them not to speak," Blakely said. "But it has to be inside the process the board developed."

Regent Michael Wixom said Klaich was acting on the board's behalf. Klaich's funding formula was adopted by the board and a legislative committee with input from university and college presidents, Wixom added.

"Dan is furthering a policy that has been embraced by the board," Wixom said. "The whole notion that he is shutting out people is misguided. It's complete and utter nonsense."

The presidents are in favor of the new formula, regents said.

"I don't think any of the presidents want to go back (to the old formula)," said Regent Kevin Page. "Anyone would be able to see that the new formula is much, much improved."

"As far as I know, all of the southern schools are in support because in the new funding formula, UNLV, CSN and NSC will actually receive more funding," Blakely said. "Because it will be (graduation) results-based and not on (student) enrollment, the new formula will favor southern colleges. The new formula is a vast improvement to the old one."

Klaich's edict isn't so much a gag order on academic free speech but a way for the system to present "one voice" to the Legislature, regents said.

"I think the chancellor is correct," Leavitt said. "I don't see this as a free-speech issue or academic freedom. I see it as a strategic way of increasing our chances in the Legislature with our budget and funding formula. We expect there to be a unified message."

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