Las Vegas Sun

November 23, 2014

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LOOKING IN ON: HIGHER EDUCATION:

Budget cuts worry veteran prof, give newbie pause

This round of state budget cuts is the worst English professor Felicia Campbell has seen since she began working at UNLV.

And that means something.

Campbell is the university’s longest-serving faculty member, and her tenure there predates most of the school’s programs, along with its graduate college, law school and other major divisions. When she arrived at the institution in 1962, its Maryland Parkway campus was “five buildings set out in the middle of the desert,” she said.

Now Campbell worries that budget cuts are going to unravel some of the programs that students, staff and faculty members have worked to build. She frets that fellow faculty members will begin to hunt for jobs at better-funded colleges.

“People will bail, people will leave,” she said. “I’ve been here long enough that I’m not going anyplace, but if the university’s image is terribly damaged, top-flight people will just go somewhere else.”

Of the budget cuts, she said, “I may be wrong, and I can’t call these things up, but I don’t ever remember anything this extreme before.”

She appears to be right. Guy Rocha, the state’s archivist, has gone further than Campbell, saying the reductions appear to be the largest since the Great Depression.

•••

The state’s finances are also making some of the state’s newest faculty members nervous.

Heidi Porter, who begins teaching full time at the College of Southern Nevada next month, says she did not educate herself about the budget cuts until June, a month after accepting a job offer from CSN. She was surprised to discover the severity of the reductions, she said.

“I still plan on coming, but it did make me nervous, hesitant,” said Porter, who will not have tenure.

Porter applied in January to teach at CSN after earning her Ph.D. in microbiology from Brigham Young University. Nevada’s proximity to Utah, where Porter grew up and where her parents live, made CSN an appealing option.

When she visited the campus to meet her potential bosses, she was impressed by the school’s facilities, small class sizes and dedication to teaching, she said.

Her interviewers told her about the state’s financial crisis, but she assumed it was “a run-of-the-mill thing.”

“I didn’t realize it was a major concern at all,” she said. “Now that I’ve done some research, it’s bigger than I realized it was.”

As Porter looks forward to her first days on the job, higher education officials across Nevada are worrying that deepening budget cuts could lead to an exodus of top faculty members. The state’s shaky finances have made recruitment difficult in some areas.

Still, Porter doesn’t regret her decision to join CSN, one of the nation’s largest community colleges. She likes the idea of working with a diverse student body.

“I thought that this was a college going in the right direction, and I hope it continues to go in the right direction,” she said.

•••

John White, dean of UNLV’s law school, sent an e-mail to students Friday afternoon to clarify his position on the law school’s night program, which allows students to attend part time and finish a law degree in four years instead of three.

After a Tuesday forum on budget cuts, some evening students walked away with the impression that their school could not guarantee they could finish their studies in the night program.

When the Sun called UNLV to find out if that was true, White responded via an e-mail to a spokesman that he had “assured current evening students that no matter what we did we would ensure that current students could complete the programs they started, to wit the evening program.”

In an interview later, White clarified that administrators could not guarantee that the night program — or other offerings, for that matter — would be available in coming years, given the severity of the looming budget cuts.

“What could be in play? Everything could be in play,” he said. “The night program could be cut. We could get rid of some of our other programs.”

This seems to be the view on which he has settled. As he related to students in his Friday e-mail, prompted by the Sun’s inquiry, the law school “would make every effort to ensure that current students could complete the programs they started.”

Got it? So, to make that clear: There are no plans to cut the night program. But there’s no guarantee how long it will continue, either.

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