UNLV rally aimed at cuts

Students -- dozens? hundreds? thousands? -- will rally this week on UNLV's campus to protest budget cuts requested by Gov. Jim Gibbons.

The governor proposed cuts of 36 percent for higher education amid a severe downturn in state revenues. Paired with a 6 percent cut in state salaries, the impact on campuses could be devastating, higher ed officials say.

So the rally comes at a critical time for higher education in Nevada. The proposed cuts could mean massive layoffs, the elimination of programs and large tuition hikes.

But it also comes at a place long known as apathetic. Las Vegas' college students, goes the refrain, don't care.

Which is why the student leaders from all three Southern Nevada higher education institutions have been working nonstop for over a month on getting students to pay attention.

They're advertising on newspaper Web sites. They're recruiting students on Facebook. They're passing out fliers at basketball games. They're canvassing their campuses with information. They're visiting classes to drum up support.

They believe they have to.

"We definitely have to make sure we give a strong message for education," said Adam Cronis, student president at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "That means we need a passionate crowd to show up."

The rally, scheduled for Thursday on UNLV's campus, will also include students from Nevada State College and the College of Southern Nevada, the state's largest institution. Organizers hope parents, educators and civic leaders will show up, too.

The rally comes on the heels of a strong turnout at December's meeting of the Board of Regents, which governs higher education.

Students were threatened with a 25 percent tuition hike to cover what were then seen as massive holes in the budget but what are now barely more than a third of the cuts proposed Thursday by the governor.

Nearly 200 students came out to protest the tuition hike, prompting Chancellor Jim Rogers to offer them backhanded praise: "What took you so long?" he asked.

These were the same students, after all, who stayed away in droves from earlier efforts to get them to pay attention to the budget cuts and how they might affect the real world.

At a forum in September, for example, aimed at just that, only a few dozen people showed up.

But this, the student leaders say, is different. The cuts the governor proposed in his State of the State speech, when added to the pay cuts, could mean as much as a 50 percent decline in state support for UNLV and nearly as much for CSN and the state college.

"The numbers from the State of the State say enough," said David Waterhouse, student president at CSN.

"Once students realize that because of the cuts, the only way to make up for them is through tuition increases, they will pay attention."

Jessica Lucero, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association at UNLV, said the aim is to get students to contact their legislators. The Legislature, after all, is the body with the real power in the budget fight.

Gerry Bomotti, UNLV's senior vice president for finance and business, said the university simply could not sustain cuts as large as what the governor proposed.

Because of the way each institution is funded, the governor's plan would mean a 52 percent cut to UNLV, he said.

He said he believes the students' efforts can help avert such a disaster.

"If people who are passionate about public services and their importance, if they make that known to elected officials, well, it can't hurt," he said.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0307.