Saturday, Jan. 24, 2009 | 2 a.m.
In a display of campus activism not seen for years, more than 3,000 demonstrators converged on UNLV’s academic mall Thursday night to protest cuts in higher education funding.
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The crowds were so thick that dozens of students climbed a few flights of stairs and hopped a fence to access a rooftop balcony on nearby John S. Wright Hall to get a better view of the evening’s proceedings.
To express themselves and stand out among the masses, participants waved placards bearing handwritten words of protest, many aimed at Gov. Jim Gibbons, whose budget proposal slashes state support for higher education by 36 percent.
Here are a few of the signs, and what the students who carried them had to say.
“EPIC FAIL GIBBONS”
UNLV freshman James Valera’s sign used the slang phrase, popular on the Internet, that turns a verb into shorthand for “failure.”
“Epic means really big. That guy’s failing big at what he’s doing,” Valera said of Gibbons.
“I’m scared that prices are going to go up, because I’m paying my own tuition,” said Valera, a full-time nursing student who lives at home to save money and works full time as a Sam’s Club phone salesman.
Like many classmates, Valera was pleased but surprised by the size of Thursday’s rally. Past demonstrations have been much smaller, drawing, at most, a few hundred participants. Last year few students bothered to show up at town hall meetings on cuts.
Thursday’s protest was the first Valera attended. The experience energized him, and he said he’ll take part in future rallies.
“I feel like I’m part of the community,” he said.
“Gibbons — Cut your texting, not education”
Because she holds two jobs in addition to studying computer engineering at UNLV, Chequala Fuller, a sophomore, doesn’t have a lot of spare time for text-
ing. She works as an undergraduate researcher for the Engineering College and as a leasing consultant for a local student-geared apartment community.
Like Valera, she worries that budget cuts will force the university to raise tuition, making it difficult for students like her to afford an education.
She apparently didn’t have time to make her own sign, either. She picked up hers from a pile of signs that protest organizers had made. It referred to the revelation last year that Gibbons had used his state cell phone to exchange 867 text messages over six weeks with a woman who was not a state employee.
“Gibbons makes teddy bears cry!!”
“If teddy bears can cry, that’s the worst thing that can happen,” explained Sangeeta Ullal, a master’s student studying psychology at UNLV.
She also earns a stipend teaching and researching as a graduate assistant and worries that she will lose her funding as a result of budget cuts.
The amount most departments at UNLV offer graduate assistants — $10,000 per academic year for master’s students and $12,000 for doctoral candidates — is lower than what many Western schools offer, putting UNLV at a disadvantage in recruiting.
An erosion of that funding would signal a lack of commitment to graduate education.
Ullal said Thursday’s turnout shows “we won’t just sit and take it.”
An international student from Canada, Ullal said if she loses her graduate assistantship, “I would go back to Canada or go to some other school that is willing to fund me.”
“Kiss our butts, budget cuts”
Eric Carreau, a senior studying economics at UNLV, and Emmanuel Espiritu, a freshman studying business marketing at the College of Southern Nevada, have a long list of gripes about proposed reductions.
Carreau worries that the best teachers will flee Nevada, drawn elsewhere by better opportunities. Espiritu frets that colleges will reduce class offerings.
“A lot of people won’t be able to graduate,” he said. “People aren’t going to get the career they wanted.”
A lack of educational opportunities would hurt the economy, preventing people from gaining skills they need to land higher-paying jobs, Carreau said.
The flip side of the friends’ “Kiss” sign carried a second message, inspired by President Barack Obama: “THIS IS NOT THE CHANGE WE NEED.”
“(VEILED OBSCENITY) CUTS”
Josh Koroghli, a junior studying biology at Nevada State College, said an erosion in state funding for higher education will hurt students’ ability to graduate in a timely manner because it will limit the number of classes offered.
“The way the education is going, I wouldn’t want my kids to grow up here,” said Koroghli, who aspires to attend pharmacy school in Nevada.
If Koroghli’s observations are any indication, Thursday’s rally could be the beginning of a movement.
Student leaders mobilized peers through an advertising blitz that included fliers Koroghli said he saw “in every bathroom, on every wall.” Organizers printed 3,000 form letters protesting cuts in education, and all were signed at the rally.
On Friday, a Web site student governments started to fight budget reductions exhorted people to attend a town-hall meeting Monday at UNLV on cuts.
Savenevadastudents.org carried this message: “THANK YOU FOR SHOWING UP IN FORCE! Nevada’s Students have been noticed. Now you need to be heard.”