Emails show Nevada higher ed agency misled Legislature on funding study

Nevada System of Higher Education officials actively worked to undermine the Legislature’s effort to overhaul college and university funding models in recent years, going so far as to present a false document to lawmakers and joking about it afterward, emails obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal show.

Using the state public records act, the Review-Journal accessed hundreds of pages of emails sent to and from state higher education officials between November 2011 and September 2012. The documents offer an unvarnished glimpse into a state agency often accused of being averse to change and intentionally opaque. The Nevada System of Higher Education oversees all of Nevada’s state-supported higher education, encompassing eight institutions.

The emails were sent at a time when the stakes were about as high as they get in Nevada higher education and a lot of money and power was on the line. A 2012 interim legislative committee was studying the state’s funding formula, which had long been criticized as unfair and nearly impossible to understand.

The chairman of that committee, former state Senate majority leader Steven Horsford, said the emails clearly show NSHE officials gamed the effort. Horsford, who left politics after losing a bid for re-election to Congress in 2014, said the system’s total disregard for the policy-making process needs to be exposed.

“Legislatures can’t legislate, the governor can’t govern, when these are the types of antics being played,” Horsford said after the Review-Journal sent him copies of emails and read others to him over the phone. “If this shows anything, it shows that the Legislature is not in charge. If anything they’re being used as tools. That has to change.”

But NSHE Chancellor Dan Klaich said in a statement that the emails “reveal the intense and detailed work on my part, NSHE staff and its institutions in developing a funding formula proposal that would address, as fairly and equitably as possible, the diverse needs of the institutions and the students.”

He said the Review-Journal is “trying to misconstrue the information by selectively taking quotes out of context and these frank and honest emails, and at times some light-hearted exchanges …”

DRIVING THE AGENDA

As Horsford’s interim legislative committee set to work on November 29, 2011, higher education system officials began strategizing how best to control the study process.

On December 10, 2011, Klaich emailed researchers at Colorado-based National Center for Higher Education Management Systems asking for help. Klaich explained that after one meeting he felt Horsford’s committee lacked leadership, creating an opportunity to “drive the agenda.”

Klaich referred to the think tank as his “special consultant” in a message to his confidante, Jane Nichols, who was herself a former chancellor who still worked in the system in a different role. Nichols advised him that the system should “have the ideal outcome of our formula study in our hip pocket.”

Committee members were told the consultant was an impartial resource when in fact the system wielded overwhelming influence over its research, emails show. In one message, Klaich thanked researchers for giving him “ammo” in his fight.

So close was the relationship that the think tank let system officials write a memo under NCHEMS letterhead.

“I will just figure out what you would say and put it on your letterhead :)” Klaich wrote former NCHEMS President Dennis Jones in August 2012.

“Make the bill a big ‘un.” Jones replied.

“I assure you it will be worth your time,” Klaich responded, following a day later with a message telling Jones he was indeed working on that “big ‘un.”

Emails show Klaich and others in his agency wrote and circulated among themselves multiple versions of a memo on the think tank’s letterhead that was later purportedly sent to Klaich by Jones. The memo was styled as the think tank’s response to questions raised by the committee and it directed Klaich to share the response with the committee. It followed a particularly hostile committee meeting where Horsford had complained that neither the committee’s consultant nor the Legislature’s fiscal staff could determine how NCHEMS calculated its recommendations.

The online discussion between higher education officials shows they were sometimes unsure why they were arguing for a particular point, but it didn’t really matter.

In one email concerning the false memo, Crystal Abba, vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, wrote that she didn’t think anyone had a good answer about why they’d used certain methodology to reach a desired conclusion. To obscure that weakness, she suggested having NCHEMS write, “This is the same basic architecture recommended for Nevada because it is simple, transparent, and easy to understand.”

“Not stellar, but it’s something.” Abba acknowledged to her coworkers.

Keeping the Legislature in the dark about who was really producing the studies and documents presented to the committee was also a concern.

“It won’t seem credible coming from us,” Renee Yackira, who was then a vice chancellor in the system, said in an email. She explained that she and fellow vice chancellor Constance Brooks felt it “would be very bad” if Klaich had to defend or even explain the document written in-house on NCHEMS letterhead.

Jones in a statement said he asked NSHE to write the memo because he was pressed for time, but that he reviewed the final version for accuracy. On the system’s input into his research as a whole, Jones said, “the chancellor, working with the presidents, made minor changes to the matrix which I deemed appropriate.”

But the emails show that in the contentious-build up to the committee’s final decision, Jones was more than a dispassionate researcher.

“Did God listen???? Or did the infidels claim the day???” Jones wrote in one message.

The Nevada higher education system’s relationship with NCHEMS has been an issue in the past. In 2015 the Review-Journal reported that the think tank had buried a negative assessment of the system after officials expressed fear it would be used to “bludgeon” the agency at a time when a legislative committee was studying whether to break up the agency.

“What type of influence was applied during the funding formula?” Regent Mark Doubrava asked at the time. “It’s almost like there is a serious issue of bringing in consultants to have the appearance of getting outside information, have a dog-and-pony show and the chancellor knows the facts ahead of time anyway, so that’s what’s applied.”

But the regents didn’t probe to see if there was a pattern. Instead, an attorney was hired to investigate only the incident with the buried report. That investigation found Klaich had feared the report could cost him his job, but that researchers had softened findings on their own.

The investigation concluded Klaich had done nothing wrong.

Horsford said he felt it was egregious if the system used state money to pay a think tank for work on the funding formula, then did the work itself.

State records show NCHEMS was paid $13,762, or 55 hours of work at $250 per hour.

Roland Stephen, a researcher with the Legislature’s consultant, SRI International, said the payment seemed low when compared with the volume of work NCHEMS appeared to have presented to the committee.

UNSATISFACTORY OUTCOME

In the end, the system was happy with the new funding formula, which was ratified by lawmakers in 2013.

But dissatisfaction with the formula remains high and many higher education leaders say the goal of creating a transparent and fair method to dole out funding fell flat. There’s a push from people concerned about community colleges to again take up the formula in the 2017 session.

While the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Lincy Institute concluded in 2014 that disparities legislators wanted to address remain a problem, Klaich in a statement last week said the Legislature had accomplished its goal of creating a more equitable formula.

Horsford disagrees.

“It’s appalling. It’s preposterous. It’s part of what’s wrong with the way the Nevada System works,” Horsford said. “The system came with an agenda, basically to protect the existing formula and the funding for the institutions, thereby thwarting our goal of creating a more equitable, fair and transparent formula.”

The involvement of NCHEMS — a group long associated with the state system — was controversial from the start. The Legislature wanted an independent researcher, and hired its own consultant through a bid process, rejecting an NCHEMS bid for that work.

When Klaich told the committee he had asked NCHEMS to give him a draft of a formula matrix to present to the committee, Horsford wanted to know more about the think tank and how it was affiliated with the system.

Klaich said a formal affiliation didn’t exist with the system, adding he had hired them in the past and considered them extremely knowledgeable.

Horsford later learned that Klaich had already signed an NCHEMS contract to work with his agency.

“That’s inappropriate and I think that out of respect for this process that needed to be put out there and made part of the official record,” Horsford said at an August 2012 committee meeting.

Klaich in a statement last week said NCHEMS’ involvement was no secret, and the committee was informed of it. He said there was a misunderstanding between himself and Horsford, but the confusion was unintentional.

Horsford said getting straight answers about the relationship between NCHEMS and the state agency was just one problem he faced. He said experts asked to testify before the committee kept backing out, saying the system told them not to appear.

“The system kept trying to advocate for the status quo and literally prevented individuals with different information, different perspectives from coming forward,” Horsford said.

Horsford said he wanted his committee to hear from presidents of all state institutions to represent the school’s different perspectives and needs, but the presidents told him they were afraid to give their opinions publicly.

Klaich has said there was plenty of debate within higher education circles, and that he issued what has been called a “gag order” telling college and university presidents to refrain from talking about the results and instead present a unified front only after Horsford’s committee wrapped up its work.

But emails show Klaich from the start wanted to control the presidents’ role in the debate from the beginning, demanding all contact with the committee go through him as a way to ensure a consistent message. He said he would allow some flexibility if lawmakers reached out to the presidents, so long as the presidents promptly reported any contact to him.

Last week Klaich wrote that he sought frank input from many interested parties and incorporated that input into a proposal that reflected a system-wide consensus.

Horsford said that emphasis on consensus made it impossible to publicly air differences between colleges and universities.

In a column in the Reno Gazette Journal last week two former northern community college presidents wrote that presidents who don’t fall in line with the system and go off-message risk being fired.

NSHE’s approach isn’t in line with the ethics higher education holds dear, said Teddi Fishman, director of the International Center for Academic Integrity, a multi-university group that fights cheating, plagiarism and academic dishonesty in higher education. No Nevada colleges or universities are listed as members of the group.

“If you have a good case to make you should be able to make it transparently, you shouldn’t have to obscure where your sources are coming,” Fishman said. Having a state agency present work it wrote as that of a think tank, going so far as to write a memo to itself, isn’t just a breach of academic integrity but the honesty most expect, she said.

Contact Bethany Barnes at bbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Find her on Twitter: @betsbarnes

ad-high_impact_4
News
ICE Detainee Prepares for Lawsuit in Las Vegas
Cecilia Gomez and her lawyer, Laura Berra, and representatives from Arriba Las Vegas Workers Center held a press conference Thursday morning. They announced the filing of a Freedom of Information Act request for all related documents to the Mexican mother's detention by immigration officers in late March and April.
What's Next For Mount Charleston Lodge
Christina Ellis, marketing director for Ellis Island, discusses what the company plans for their latest addition, the Mt. Charleston Lodge in Kyle Canyon.
Bill Cosby Found Guilty on All Charges
Bill Cosby Found Guilty on All Charges The 80-year-old actor has been convicted on three counts of aggravated indecent assault, all of which have a penalty of 10 years in prison. In 2004, Cosby drugged and raped Andrea Constand, a Temple University employee, when she went to him for career advice. Despite only being convicted for Constand’s case, multiple other women have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct. The verdict was delivered by the jury on Thursday after more than 14 hours of deliberation. This was the second trial for Constrand’s case against Cosby after the first trial ended in a mistrial when the jury could not come to a conclusion.
Suspected 'Golden State Killer' Arrested 30 Years After Crime Spree
Suspected 'Golden State Killer' Arrested 30 Years After Crime Spree According to 'The New York Times', police have made an arrest in connection with a series of unsolved murders and rapes during the 1970s and 1980s. 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested on two counts of murder, according to records from the Sacramento County jail. The Golden State Killer is believed to have killed at least 12 people, raped at least 45 people and burglarized more than 120 homes between 1976 and 1986. According to CNN, no one has ever been identified as a suspect before. Anne Marie Schubert, Sacramento District Attorney
Clark County teacher explains why he’s joining new union
A new local teachers union was created Wednesday, right after Clark County Education Association members voted to cut ties with the state and national union. The new local union retains those ties. (Meghin Delaney/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Genetic counselors in Southern Nevada area preaching testing for people with risk factors
Genetic counselors in Southern Nevada area preaching testing for people with risk factors to determine their cancer and disease risk. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Run Leaves Las Vegas
The 19th annual Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Run left Las Vegas Wednesday morning. More than 550 officers will run 132 segments to Carson City. Each leg represents an officer who died in the line of duty.
President Donald Trump speaks at White House ceremony for French president
President Donald Trump speaks during a welcome ceremony for French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday. (Debra Saunders/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at White House ceremony
President Emmanuel Macron speaks at Tuesday ceremony welcoming the French leader and his wife to the White House. (Debra Saunders/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Toronto Attack Suspect Charged in Van Attack
Toronto Attack Suspect Charged in Van Attack According to the Associated Press, 25-year-old Alek Minassian was charged with 10 counts of 1st degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder. Minassian appeared in court Tuesday morning after mowing down and killing 10 people in a rented van Monday in downtown Toronto. 15 others were also injured in the attack. Authorities have not announced a motive. “As was indicated last night by our public security minister, at this time we have no reason to suspect that there is any national security element to this attack, but obviously the investigations continue.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
1 dead in shooting at southwest Las Vegas home
A dispute between roommates led to the fatal shooting of one man in the backyard of their southwest Las Vegas Valley home on Monday, April 23, 2018. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
9 Dead and at Least 16 Injured as Van Hits Pedestrians in Toronto
9 Dead and at Least 16 Injured as Van Hits Pedestrians in Toronto The driver of the van is now in custody after climbing the curb and plowing through crowds of people. Witnesses describe a scene of chaos as the trail stretched about one mile before coming to a stop. Witness, via CTV Canada's Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, made initial statements after learning of the incident. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson Welcomes New Baby Girl!
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Welcomes New Baby Girl! The 45-year-old actor posted an adorable photo on Instagram, celebrating his newborn baby girl, Tiana Gia Johnson. Dwayne Johnson, via Instagram Dwayne Johnson, via Instagram Dwayne Johnson, via Instagram This is Johnson’s second daughter with his girlfriend, Lauren Hashian. His oldest daughter, Simone Garcia Johnson, came from his previous marriage. Johnson and Hashian first announced they were expecting another child back in January. Congratulations!!
High School Senior Wins Writing Scholarship
Kye "Kai" Catarata was presented with a $1,000 scholarship at the Las Vegas Writer's Conference Saturday at the Tuscany Suites and Casino.
It's a Boy! Duchess of Cambridge Gives Birth to Third Child
It's a Boy! Duchess of Cambridge Gives Birth to Third Child Kensington Palace announced that Prince William and Princess Kate traveled by car to the private Lindo Wing of St. Mary's Hospital in central London Monday. The child was born at 11:01 a.m. local time, weighing 8lbs 7oz. Her Royal Highness and her child are both doing well. Kensington Palace The new addition will be fifth in line to the throne, Queen Elizabeth II's sixth great-grandchild and third grandchild of Charles, Prince of Wales. Catherine and Harry married in 2011 and have two other children, Prince George, 4, and Princess Charlotte, who turns 3 next month.
Dr. Abbatangelo: Professor, Pageant Queen and Animal Dentist
Dr. Tina M. Abbatangelo, a professor of clinical practice at UNLV dentist school spends her free time and money traveling across the country to help treat exotic animals.
Joseph Otting, U.S. comptroller of the currency during an interview with RJ
Joseph Otting, U.S. comptroller of the currency during an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Otting oversees all national banks, credit unions, mutual savings banks, coops and the federal branches and agencies of foreign banks in the United States. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Paris Wade discusses about his “Liberty Writers” website
Paris Wade, who made national headlines for operating a fake news website and boasts about getting President Donald Trump elected in 2016, speaks during an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Friday, April 20, 2018, in Las Vegas. Wade is running for Nevada Assembly. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Police Unity Tour from New Jersey to Washington D.C. to commemorate fallen officers.
Las Vegas Metro police and Henderson police officers ride their bikes during the Vegas Team's last practice rides in preparation for the Police Unity Tour from New Jersey to Washington D.C. to commemorate fallen officers. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review Journal @bizutesfaye
UNLV students walk out of class on national walkout day
UNLV students and supporters chanted, marched and rallied on national walkout day Friday, April 20 on the 19th anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado. K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Veterans Find Comfort in Crafting
Patriot Place Apartments, an affordable housing facility that gives preference to veterans, started moving people in in August. The apartment buildings have 41, one-bedroom and 9 two-bedrooms and provide rental assistance or subsidized rent to residents based on their income. Thirteen apartments were fully furnished and set-aside specifically for low-income veterans with a disability and who are facing the challenges of homelessness. The facility also offers activities like crafting to help vets socialize and build confidence. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Captain Sasha Larkin Discusses Challenges, Progress in North West
Captain Sasha Larkin, of Metro's Northwest Area Command, discusses what issues face the northwest valley's residents and what police are doing to address them.
Southwest giving passengers on deadly flight $5,000 for compensation
Passengers on Flight 1380 have been receiving checks as a gesture of goodwill from the airline.
Ellis Island Buys Mt. Charleston Lodge
Ellis Island, which operates a casino, brewery and hotel just off the Strip, purchased the Mt. Charleston Lodge in early April.
LVMPD Arrests Suspect in Sunset Park Shooting
Captain Robert Plummer held a press conference at LVMPD headquarters Thursday to provide updates on the arrest of Anthony J. Wrobel, accused of killing a Venetian executive and wounding one other in a shooting on Sunday.
Two Black Men Arrested at Starbucks Share Their Story
Two Black Men Arrested at Starbucks Share Their Story Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson sat down with ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’ on Thursday and said the Starbucks manager called the police two minutes after they arrived. Donte Robinson, to 'Good Morning America' Donte Robinson, to 'Good Morning America' The men were meeting with a friend for a business meeting at the store’s location at around 3:45 pm on April 12 and declined to make any purchases. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson issued a public apology and vowed to fix the issue by closing 8,000 stores nationwide next month for training on unconscious bias. Both Nelson and Robinson were released without charges after spending hours in jail, and the manager is no longer with the company.
Hero Southwest Pilot Was One of the Navy’s First Female Fighter Pilots
Hero Southwest Pilot Was One of the Navy’s First Female Fighter Pilots Tammie Jo Shults is being called a hero after safely landing the crippled Southwest Flight 1380 in Philadelphia. According to a spokesperson, Shults began her Navy career in 1985 and was one of the first female pilots to “transition to tactical aircraft.” She served for another eight years before moving to the Naval Reserve, retiring completely in 2001 with the rank of Lt. Commander. The Southwest flight, which was headed for Dallas from New York, was forced to make an emergency landing after one of its engines blew. One passenger was killed in the explosion when shrapnel flew through a window. Seven others suffered minor injuries aboard the flight, which carried 149 people. Passenger Peggy Phillips, to NBC News Passenger Peggy Phillips, to NBC News
Bump stock manufacturers under fire
The Justice Department said last month that it had started the process to amend federal firearms regulations to clarify that federal law defines bump stocks as machine guns.
Artist, Community Paint Winchester Skate Park
Andrew Schoultz, a Los Angeles-based artist with an upcoming exhibit at UNLV's Barrick Museum, painted the skate park at Winchester Cultural Center on Tuesday.
Prince death investigation coming to an end
Prosecutors in Minnesota plan an announcement Thursday on the two-year investigation into Prince's death from a drug overdose Prince was 57 when he was found alone and unresponsive in an elevator at his Paisley Park estate on April 21, 2016. An autopsy found he died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl. Search warrants unsealed about a year after Prince died showed that authorities searched his home, cellphone records of associates and his email accounts to try to determine how he got the drug. The county attorney has scheduled a morning announcement at which time charges could be filed.
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Events
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like