After spending months not talking to Chancellor Jim Rogers about the funding and future of higher education in Nevada, Gov. Jim Gibbons made it official this week. He said he’d address university system issues only through a liaison.
This, of course, came as no surprise to Rogers. Rogers has taken plenty of criticism for heating up Gibbons, calling him names, questioning his soul, and generally taking issue with what the chancellor sees as a lack of commitment to higher education in Nevada.
Rogers is right, of course. He’s been right all along. Higher education has taken a back seat in a horse-and-buggy in Nevada since statehood. Gibbons is a go-along, get-along political hack with no real vision for Nevada’s future. He’s adamantly anti-tax, but he’s not raising a ruckus about a large room-tax increase, and he’ll be more than happy to accept federal stimulus dollars that will make the math a little easier in the latest budget-carving session of the Legislature.
Critics will contend Rogers didn’t play his cards right, but the truth is Gibbons was never going to see the world the chancellor’s way. They approach reality from opposite ends of the Earth. Rogers knows the only way for a state university system to succeed in the long run is to enjoy consistent, generous, long-term funding both from the public and private sectors. With few exceptions, Nevada sports a gaggle of billionaires who don’t give more than table scraps to the university system – and are rarely criticized about it.
When Gibbons took office, clinging even then to a no-new taxes pledge that made him the state’s Maytag repairman, it was clear even then he would clash with the extremely outspoken Rogers.
And so they’ve clashed on a regular basis. It’s no big surprise and not even very newsworthy.
Gibbons’ strategy has essentially been to ignore Rogers and his pointed opinions about the importance of higher education in Nevada. And it’s worked thanks in large part to a recession economy and the fact so few of Nevada’s major business and media players give a damn whether your kids get a good, affordable public university education.
Gibbons has hunkered down and will look responsible in the current economic climate for creating a budget that is in no one’s best interests and must be rewritten by the Legislature. It’s a game plan for re-election, and it may yet work to his benefit.