Nevadans Tussle Over NSHE Board of Regents and Ballot Question One
Alina Croft and Henry Stone look into the too close to predict Nevada Ballot Question One by interviewing current and former students of UNR, and find heated divisions.
Graphic designed by Henry Stone, depicting voting for or against Ballot Question One.
What Does Ballot Question One Mean?
In a surprising twist of an already controversial election, Nevada Ballot Question One has become quite a heated debate between opponents and supporters. When asked through an Instagram poll by reporter Alina Croft whether her followers were for or against the passage of the proposed amendment, she received a barrage of direct messages from both sides.
These messages included expletives. Respondents said they feel this issue is very personal to them as either university graduates or current students.
Nevada is a unique state to attend a state institution in. The University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) and the University of Las Vegas, Nevada (UNLV) are run by a board of regents which elects its members, something only done in nine other states, but is still even more unusual in the fact that it is the only higher education board in all of the United States with the constitutional status to manage itself.
With the proposed amendment, officially referred to as Amendment to the Nevada Constitution Assembly Joint Resolution №5 of the 79th Session, the Board of Regents would be stripped of provisions allowing them to be elected. Instead, the board would be appointed, and it would no longer be in total control of the affairs and funds it receives, abdicating supervision and management powers to the state legislature. The legislature would be required by law to provide reasonable protection for individual academic freedom at the institutions.
Support for Ending the Powers of the Board of Regents
Sheridan Manfredi, a Spring 2020 graduate of UNR, will be voting to amend the Nevada Constitution and allow the legislature to oversee or abolish the Board of Regents.
“The reason I support Question One is, Nevada is the only place where the Board of Regents is not subject to legislative review. Many think of the Board of Regents as a fourth branch of government, and I think that is too much power for one institution,” said Manfredi.
Manfredi believes the passage will be a solution for the issues she mentioned and is passionate about part of what the amendment will provide.
“I feel like there needs to be a mechanism to hold [the Board of Regents] accountable and this is a way to do that. Also, voting yes provides the protection of academic freedom for individuals which I think is really important,” she said.
There have also been claims that by passing the amendment, the Board of Regents will be held more accountable and transparent with the oversight of the legislature.
“I don’t like how the Board of Regents elected Brian Sandoval,” said Victoria Skinner, a resident of Reno of Sandoval recently becoming UNR’s new president. “One of the voting members contributed to his past campaigns, and I don’t think that should be allowed. I don’t think the Board of Regents should have all [of] that power.”
In “Arguments For Passage” in the Washoe County Registrar of Voters’ Official Sample Ballot, it states, “This divide between the Legislature’s constitutional power to fund higher education and the Board’s constitutional power to direct how those funds are actually spent gives the Board a virtually unparalleled power within state government to control and manage higher education spending without the same level of legislative oversight.”
An Instagram poll conducted by Alina Croft to see how her followers felt about the passage of Question One.
Opponents to Question One Warn of Negative Change
A current fourth year undergraduate student at UNR, Emma Jerz, is not in support of amending the Nevada Constitution in this way.
“From my perspective, the legislature has done a bad job of regulating education in the kindergarten through twelfth grade schools with funding and with the standards they hold teachers and testing to. None of it has really been successful and I don’t want to see that happen with NSHE,” said Jerz.
Jerz is concerned with the legislature becoming the only governing body for Nevada state institutions and how that will impact students and faculty.
“UNR and UNLV are both Tier-1 research institutions who thus far, have governed themselves pretty well and have continued to improve over the years with the help of the Board of Regents,” Jerz said. “For those reasons, I don’t think a body of government that only meets once every two years, except for in the case of a special session if any issue were to arise during the year, is the correct body to run these institutions. The people who would be making the decisions about the schools, wouldn’t be close to the schools themselves. They don’t know what students think of the issues and they don’t necessarily know what faculty thinks of the issues either.”
The State Legislature meets every odd year for 120 days. For example, the recent 80th 2019 Session of the Nevada Legislature began on February 4, 2019, and adjourned on June 4, 2019. Some efforts have been made to make the meeting requirement annual as recently as Senate Joint Resolution 5 in 2019 and previous attempts in 1970 and 1958. In 2011, Nevada became one of only four states (with Texas, North Dakota and Montana) whose legislatures are not required to meet annually. In order to react to the pandemic, Gov. Steve Sisolak has called two special sessions in 2020.
Bringing Politics into Higher Education?
Jerz also had a rebuttal to claims being made that the changes will not impact those involved with the institutions on a regular basis.
“[Supporters] are saying it won’t change the day-to-day operations, but it will technically give the legislature the power to get rid of the board if they wanted to and once we vote that they are able to make that decision, we can’t take that back. We’ve never had our higher education run by anything other than the Board of Regents, which means everything that could happen after this is going to be brand new and uncertain. It is unlikely to be better than what we have currently, for at least a few years,” said Jerz.
Other opponents to the amendment are worried about the political aspect that will be brought into the arena of Nevada’s higher education if passed and the independence of the individual institutions to make decisions they feel are best.
In “Arguments Against Passage” in the Washoe County Registrar of Voters’ Official Sample Ballot, it states, “The Board has not claimed that it is entitled to ‘absolute control’ over management of the State University, or that it is free from legislative oversight and accountability.”
It also states that the amendment will make “the Board a statutory body completely subject to the control of the political machinery of government — the Legislature will somehow improve the transparency, efficiency, and effectiveness of Nevada’s higher education system.”