The Trouble With Educayshun

Once upon a time, The Daily Show featured a segment, “This Week in God,” with Stephen Colbert when he was a lowly correspondent and not yet Bill O’Reilly’s competition. It was supposed to be satirical, but some of the news it included was too silly to be made up. That’s why it may be time to start a “This Week in Nevada Education” segment. Here are some quick hits:

• Last week, several members of the Nevada System of Higher Education board of regents hosted a reception for UNR’s proposed new football coach before the meeting, then voted on whether to hire him in the meeting afterward. That’s slightly backward, but that isn’t news. What is news is that several regents announced that their job is just to hire college and university presidents and then support whatever those presidents think is a good idea, begging a reasonable
question: why do we have regents if all they do is rubber-stamp the chancellor and the presidents?

• Chancellor Dan Klaich told the Las Vegas Sun’s editorial board that he hopes that faculty pay and benefits can be restored. Earlier this year, he had the money to support pay raises for several top aides already in the six figures and for several coaches while staff like
administrative assistants and custodians go to a food bank for help. He also said higher education institutions have “overcut” administration and in fact “I don’t think we’re heavy on administration at all.” He’s right—about student services like financial aid and various resources. Those areas bore the brunt of the cuts, but somehow the number of deans, associate vice presidents and vice presidents didn’t exactly fall through the floor.

• Democratic legislators told the Sun’s Anjeanette Damon that, according to state senate majority leader Mo Denis, “achieving funding equity is the key to the rest of the Democrats’ education initiatives—including reduced class sizes, expanded full-day kindergarten and creating a pre-kindergarten program for at-risk students.” All worthy goals, but they just figured this out? And just in time for Gov. Brian Sandoval to oppose funding equity because that might offend the north? If the Clark County legislative delegation united, they could get every dime of state education money, and if a Democratic candidate for governor came from Clark County and ran on the platform of actually supporting the region with the state’s population and revenue, then these plans might be taken more seriously.

• Meanwhile, Sandoval is pushing a merit pay system to reward or punish K-12 teachers, and arguing that there should be a way to have a fair system. This fits in with NSHE’s efforts to demand that faculty help more students graduate without giving said faculty control over any of the money being spent on helping those students. How about a modest proposal for a fair system: Evaluate all administrators the same way they propose to evaluate those in the classroom. In fact, how about evaluating the governor that way? If the unemployment rate is above 10 percent, he doesn’t get paid. That’s a fair way to evaluate his performance, isn’t it?

• UNLV is pushing ahead on a 60,000-seat events center. This happens to be a great idea,
for the campus and for the community, which will be able to keep big events and attract others. And UNLV has the right person in charge of it in Don Snyder, dean of the hotel college, a former Boyd Gaming executive and a driving force behind getting The Smith Center for the Performing Arts built. But it’s a public/private project and Snyder told the Review-Journal that UNLV will ask local casino resorts and the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority for about $125 million to help pay for it. Putting together the financing and planning won’t be easy, Snyder said: “This is a complicated mother.”

If there were odds, you should bet on Snyder, and the events center probably would help the community by bringing in events that boost the economy and promoting UNLV, which certainly needs it. But isn’t it wonderful that the casinos can’t pay higher gaming taxes that would support education, but can reasonably be expected to pony up for an events center? The point is not whether the events center will do great things, because it will. But what if the $125 million went toward improving computer and engineering programs to attract high-tech industry that could bring in billions? The shame is not that this won’t happen, but that this isn’t even being discussed.

Back to you, Colbert.