Las Vegas Sun

April 18, 2014

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Won’t you come back, CSN asks unions

A popular labor union apprenticeship training program has been asked to return to the College of Southern Nevada, where it had been booted off campus four weeks ago by lame-duck President Richard Carpenter.

During a meeting with union officials, Jim Rogers, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, berated Carpenter for snubbing labor, and chagrined regents invited the head of the Nevada AFL-CIO to help find Carpenter's replacement.

The reconciliation efforts between the highest ranks of higher education and labor comes as Carpenter has one foot out the door to his new job in Houston.

Rogers, Regent s Chairman Michael Wixom, Regent Steve Sisolak and Executive Vice Chancellor Dan Klaich sat down with union officials and CSN's soon-to-be interim President Michael Richards last week to discuss the issues that led Carpenter to abruptly sever ties with the Union Apprenticeship Program in June.

The partnership, which is financially attractive to CSN, serves 6,000 students a semester, offering participants college credit toward an associate's degree and hands-on training by certified union journeyman in various trades.

Richards said he is working with the unions on a proposal that will be sensitive to the needs of the union s and the college.

"In some ways we're back to square three, but everybody is calmed down and there is a better understanding what some people's needs are," Rogers said. "Richard Carpenter ended up being the focus of a lot of the bad feelings, and that has resolved itself. Well, his leaving resolves a lot of it."

Rogers said "personnel and personality" conflicts were the main issues behind the fallout, but CSN further inflamed the unions in June when officials ordered two workers to pack up boxes of proprietary curriculum materials belonging to the unions and move them to CSN's Sahara West office. Rogers ordered the boxes moved to the system headquarters and, last week, had the workers involved sign affidavits that no materials were copied. CSN officials said the boxes were moved to protect student files, not to copy the curriculum.

Carpenter participated in the meeting briefly via phone, during which Rogers called him out in front of the unions for unilaterally canceling the program.

Wixom and Sisolak further offered an olive branch to the unions by asking Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada AFL-CIO, to serve on the search committee for Carpenter's replacement. The offer was not a quid pro quo or any part of the negotiation process, Wixom said, but a recognition of the valuable input the unions could give in selecting a new president.

Wixom and Sisolak described the conversation as frank, blunt and ultimately positive. The unions still have several concerns, including whom they will work with at the college, but are at least talking to CSN again, the regents said.

Thompson and other union officials were not reachable for comment Tuesday. Carpenter has declined to discuss the reasons for his actions.

Sisolak, an old friend of Thompson, said he helped negotiate the peace council after learning about the problem in the Sun.

"I don't want to place blame on anyone - I wasn't there - but I am trying to get the programs back where they belong, at CSN, and take care of the students," Sisolak said. "Protecting those students is my main concern."

Losing the program also could have hurt students not in the union program because of the financial repercussions. The program is essentially a profit generator for the college, helping boost CSN's enrollment - and thus the college's state funding - with minimal cost to the college. The unions develop the curriculum, provide the instructors and the facilities, and the college pays only for the space used to offer the college classes and for the instructors' salaries.

When Carpenter cancel ed the program, Rogers asked Nevada State College in Henderson, which was already working with the unions on a bachelor's degree program, and Great Basin College in Elko, to see whether they could take over the program to keep the unions from going out of state for apprenticeship training.

But as officials worked the numbers, they found that moving the program to Elko could be devastating to students all around, Great Basin President Paul Killpatrick said.

Whereas CSN needed the enrollment because of the state funding it brought, the 6,000 students in the program each semester would have immediately tripled Great Basin's student body. The college would have had to operate the program with no state funding until the next legislative session, and then, in 2009, the jump in enrollment would have put it into a different funding category, meaning less money per student overall.

"Looking at the numbers involved, we realized it could be harmful to us ... so the chancellor and regents are trying to make it work at CSN where they really belong," Killpatrick said.

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