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Student to regent during heated exchange: ‘I don’t owe you respect’

Updated Friday, May 6, 2011 | 11:07 a.m.

A heated exchange between a graduate teaching fellow and a member of the Nevada Board of Regents over proposed budget cuts kicked off today's special meeting of the 13-member panel, with the student threatening to organize a statewide boycott of the regents' business interests and board member Mark Alden rising to his feet to shout that the student was "out of line" in delivering her comments.

Gina Sully, who said she has two degrees from the College of Southern Nevada and two from UNLV, said: "I want to put a face to one of the students you encouraged to stay in Nevada for her career … a student who fears her degrees will be worth little on the national job market. I want to remind you today you are not our leaders; you are our representatives."

Sully, a 52-year-old former country club manager in New York, said she is working with others in the state to potentially organize the boycotts and walk the districts of regents who do not refuse any budget cuts adopted by state legislators and Gov. Brian Sandoval.

"I want them to refuse the cuts. I want them to refuse the cuts," she said.

Alden, a longtime board member, rose from his seat at the regents' horseshoe-shaped table at the head of the room, and said in response to Sully's comments: "You are dead wrong. Your comments are out of line. You're out of line (and show) complete disrespect."

Sully replied: "I don't owe you respect. You have to earn my respect."

The comments were unusually passionate for a panel that is not typically known for such exchanges between regents and the public.

Sully returned to her seat, which Alden walked to about 10 minutes later. He could be overhead saying: "You're dead wrong. You're dead wrong."

Sully replied: "You're not listening sir."

Alden's response: "You're dead wrong."

Sully later noted that several Facebook pages have been created to oppose the proposed cuts including: Nevada Students Unite Here (104 people like this page), Fused Nevada (202 people like this page).

A UNLV professor in the audience who lives within Alden's district noted that the board member’s heart was in the right place, but he is under a great deal of pressure.

The board is meeting today in the ballroom of UNLV's Student Union to discuss the latest budget proposals under consideration in the state Legislature. Earlier this week, the state Economic Forum, a state-appointed panel of five economic analysts, met to deliver a new revenue forecast for the governor and Legislature.

The panel concluded that improved economic conditions could find an additional $20 million going to the Nevada System of Higher Education during the 2011-2013 budget period. UNLV is facing the loss of 315 employees because of the proposed budget cuts.

Also today, the board unanimously appointed UNR Executive Vice President and Provost Marc Johnson to serve as the university's interim president following the mid-April death of President Milton Glick, 73, who died of a massive stroke. The appointment came with the recommendation of Nevada State System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich.

Regents Chairman James Dean Leavitt recommended that the panel conduct a national search for a permanent replacement for Glick, who was considered a sharp political and academic strategist. Board members did not decide whether to move ahead with such a search, noting that the proposal was not listed on the agenda for the meeting. Such a discussion could have violated the state's Open Meetings Law.

"Provost Johnson and former President Glick were a team," Leavitt said in support of Johnson. "They had a joint vision, and some of that vision would be lost with an interruption."

Johnson was appointed to his previous positions in March 2008, and his portfolio included the responsibilities of serving as the university's chief academic officer and second-ranking vice president. He previously served as vice provost for Agriculture and Outreach and Dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Colorado State University. He is also a past director of the Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service. Johnson has taught and conducted research at North Carolina State University and Oklahoma State University, with a focus on national and international food distribution systems with a basis in economics.

"I'm very pleased and appreciate the confidence that the chancellor and the regents have in me," Johnson said, noting that he will follow in the "Glick mold."

"The entire university wants stability and continuity," Johnson said. "Milt Glick and I were a team. We will miss Milt. We will miss him at these meetings for his humor."

There was open talk among board members of Jane Nichols, the state system's vice chancellor of academic and student affairs, becoming the permanent president of UNR. Nichols had previously served as the Nevada chancellor of higher education from 2000 to 2004 before retiring from that post in May 2004. She previously served as an associate dean for the College of Education at the Reno university.

When asked whether Johnson would be willing to return to the provost's position under a President Nichols, Johnson said: "She is one person I would be willing to work for if she became president. I can't guarantee that for everybody."

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