Last weekend, the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Bethany Barnes threw dynamite into an already tense relationship between the Nevada State Legislature and the Nevada System of Higher Education, or NSHE.
Barnes revealed a series of emails exchanged before the 2013 legislative session that showed NSHE Chancellor Dan Klaich maneuvering with an outside group to get a legislative committee to change the funding formula for higher education.
The emails also show that NSHE apparently wrote a legislative memo on the letterhead of the consulting group, the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, otherwise known as En-Chems.
This is the same think tank/consulting firm, by the way, which wrote a critical report on NSHE’s operations in 2013 – a report which was suppressed by Chancellor Klaich. The firm subsequently wrote a more favorable report.
With the release of these emails, NSHE seems to be doing something impossible - bringing Democratic and Republican state lawmakers together. There is growing concensus that NSHE must be reigned in.
Former Nevada Congressman Steven Horsford told KNPR's State of Nevada that he is "appalled and alarmed" by the emails Barnes was able to dig up.
He also said he doesn't know why Klaich has not resigned his position.
Barnes said the issue that has most people upset is that reports from think tanks and consultants like the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems are supposed to be impartial.
It is an opinion shared by Assemblyman David Gardner and Assemblyman Stephen Silberkraus.
"I need people to tell me the truth," Gardner said.
He said with such a short amount of time to get a lot done in the Legislature getting the facts on issues is vital.
“It’s supposed to be a partnership," Silberkraus said.
The assemblyman argues when lawmakers get information from state agencies they need to understand it and know where it came from so they can make the right decisions.
Horsford is also worried about the amount of power Chancellor Klaich has. He said he believes the chancellor has been given almost "super powers." He said that people who wanted to testify in front of the education committee were told they had to go through the chancellor to provide a united front.
Both Gardner and Silberkraus said they have recieved anonymous emails and letters from people inside the higher education system that were worried about retaliation if they spoke up about problems.
“NSHE likes to circle the wagon and protect itself,” Silberkraus said.
The two lawmakers are looking at ways to reform NSHE, including separating community colleges from UNLV and UNR. They are also considering constitutional reform. NSHE has unprecedented powers for a state higher education systsem. But Silberkraus stopped short of calling for Klaich to be fired.
He said lawmakers want to make sure they do their "due diligence" when it comes to delving into what happened.
Bethany Barnes, reporter, Las Vegas Review-Journal; Assemblyman David Gardner R-District 9, Nevada State Legislature; Assemblyman Stephen Silberkraus R-District 29, Nevada State Legislature; Steve Horsford, former congressman and state senator
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