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April 17, 2014

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higher education:

College students band together, rally against budget cuts

University leaders criticize governor and urge students to take action

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Sam Morris

Students gather on the UNLV campus for a rally to protest Gov. Jim Gibbons’ proposed budget cuts for higher education.

Students Rally Against Budget Cuts

About 2,000 college students and supporters rallied at UNLV's campus protesting a proposed 36 percent budget cut to higher education.

UNLV budget cuts rally

Students gather on the the UNLV campus for a rally to protest Gov. Jim Gibbons' proposed budget cuts for higher education Thursday. Launch slideshow »

A rally protesting a proposed 36 percent budget cut to higher education drew a raucous crowd of roughly 2,000 people to the UNLV campus Thursday and left students like Casey Breymann energized, wielding a new-found sense of hope.

"It's not going to happen," said Breymann, who is studying elementary education at Nevada State College. Cuts would "decide whether or not I go to UNLV for grad school."

She had already drafted part of a letter she planned to send to state legislators -- an action repeatedly encouraged by the host of college officials, students and politicians throughout the evening.

Before the rally got underway, students crammed tents to sign petitions and receive information on how to contact state legislators. Others waved signs of protest like "Impeach Gibbons" as a DJ spun music near the stage. During the event, students bristled with indignation at the mention of the cuts, while they wildly cheered calls demanding action.

"We all know why we're here," Nevada State College student body President Ryan Crowell said. Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons "failed education and the state, and we're not going to let the legislature make the same mistake."

UNLV student body President Adam Cronis and others who addressed the gathering said the crowd's size proved that students are now engaged and are no longer apathetic.

"A lot of people told us it couldn't happen," he said. "That we'd let the colleges and UNLV sink into the dust."

Michael Ulrich, a UNLV biology student, delved into how the cuts are already affecting students: larger class sizes, fewer sections and delayed graduations. He asked those in the crowd if they wanted a state that failed to graduate any doctors, nurses or dentists. He specifically called for a revision of the state's tourism-dependent tax structure.

"If we stand together, there's no end to what we can accomplish," Ulrich said. "Today is the beginning of a movement that will change Nevada forever. Join me in the fight for our future."

UNLV President David Ashley, who reminisced about student activism in the 1960s, urged students to make phone calls and write e-mails to elected officials.

"They made history because the issue was bigger than themselves," he said. "We should reject the budget completely."

Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Jim Rogers followed up on that sentiment, urging students to ignore the governor, whom he called "irrelevant." Instead, he insisted students focus on the legislature, which he predicted could overturn the governor's veto of a new budget. He said he believed they would soon have letters of support from all 63 state legislators opposing the governor's budget.

"They're not going to let the system go to hell," he said.

Rogers also ridiculed the governor's suggestion that he look to donors to recoup lost money.

"Donors go with winners," he said. "If the system becomes a loser, there will be no donors."

After pledging his support for higher education, Assemblyman Ruben Kihuen predicted the upcoming legislative session would be one of the most contentious in state history.

"I want you to shout so loud, they'll hear you in Carson City," Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said. "It's so refreshing to see so many bright, energetic students here."

Nevada State pre-nursing student Irasema Paul said she appreciated the rally and had already sent e-mails and letters to the legislators. She is a former Clark County School District teacher who returned to school and has students enrolled in public schools.

"I think it's important the schools' budgets don't get cut," she said. "What the governor is trying to do is ridiculous."

Dave Clark can be reached at 990-2677 or [email protected].

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