RENO — Southern Utah University President Scott Wyatt acknowledged he was under pressure from a group of conservatives to remove U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s name from a center on campus, but he said politics had nothing to do with his decision to do so.
The Nevada Democrat’s name was removed from the front door of the school’s Outdoor Engagement Center in Cedar City, Utah, last week, several months after two local elected officials and others met with Wyatt and told him they had received $40,000 in pledges in five days toward erasing Reid’s name, Wyatt said Friday.
Wyatt said he told the group to stop raising money and that he would not accept it to remove Reid’s name from the center.
Instead, he decided to strike Reid’s name because it created confusion about the center’s purpose because “nobody” associated the senator with the outdoors, Wyatt said. The center rents outdoor equipment to students, offers internship programs for students seeking outdoor careers and coordinates project-based learning activities for students.
Wyatt also said the school’s 2011 naming of the center in Reid’s honor generated no donations to it from the senator’s friends as had been hoped. Reid graduated from the university in 1959.
“The decision has nothing to do with politics,” Wyatt said. “We’re a university. We’re full of Democrats and Republicans and Green Party members and Libertarians. We don’t make partisan calls with regard to our esteemed alumnus.
“The leading factor is the center’s leadership reported to me it created confusion. When people looked at the name, they didn’t understand the connection (between the center and Reid). It was just a little difficult.”
Reid issued a brief statement Friday.
“I was approached and asked to use my name and I was happy to, but there was no such agreement to have me raise funds for it,” he said. “I’m not going to raise money to have my name placed on anything.”
When the center was named for him, Reid touted his congressional record concerning public lands in Nevada, noting his role in the creation of Great Basin National Park, the designation of wilderness areas and an annual summit to protect Lake Tahoe.
At the time, he also criticized Utah’s attempts to wrest control of public lands from the federal government.
Cedar City Councilman Paul Cozzens and Iron County Commissioner Dave Miller praised Wyatt’s decision to remove Reid’s name. They were among the group of conservatives who met with him in the spring.
“This is a conservative base in southern Utah, and many people in Southern Nevada also feel the same way,” Cozzens told The Spectrum of St. George, Utah. “These people in Nevada do not espouse to Reid’s political philosophies, and they told me they would not support the university or send any more of their children there … so long as Harry Reid’s name remained.”
But Wyatt said plans call for a future center to be named for Reid on campus. The center’s purpose will depend on who donates and their interests.
“Absolutely, he’s one of our most distinguished alumnus,” Wyatt said. “He’s somebody we should all be proud of, regardless of politics … It’s not Sen. Reid’s concern as to whether we raise money (for the new center). It’s ours.”