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 …”


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.


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 or 702-477-3861. Find her on Twitter: @betsbarnes

The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance Lights memorial unveiled at St. Rose hospital
A dedication ceremony was held at St. Rose to unveil a memorial and to read the names of those who died on October 1, a year ago. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive Remembrance Wall
(Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive
Vitalent hosts a blood drive at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, the first anniversary of the Las Vegas shootings. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October sunrise remembrance ceremony in Las Vegas
Myanda Smith, sister of Las Vegas shooting victim Neysa Tonks, speaks at the sunrise remembrance ceremony at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
‪Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to crowd at Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬
‪Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to the crowd at the Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Father of Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim talks about college scholarship in his daughter's memory
Chris Davis, father of a Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim, Neysa Tonks, talks about a college scholarship in his daughter's memory to assist the children of those who died in the shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Oct. 1 survivor Malinda Baldridge talks about life after the shooting
Malinda Baldridge of Reno attended the Route 91 Harvest festival with her daughter, Breanna, 17, and was shot twice in the leg when the gunman fired on the crowd.
Route 91 survivor talks about lack of progress in gun legislation
Heather Gooze, a Route 91 survivor, talks about lack of progress in gun legislation since the Oct 1. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas/Review-Journal) @reviewjournal
Review held in death of man after encounter with Las Vegas police
The mother of Tashii Brown, who died after an encounter with Las Vegas police on the Strip, not satisfied after public review of evidence. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County Museum opening "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials"
The Clark County Museum is opening an exhibit "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials" of items left to honor the victims killed in the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Memorial service for former RJ lawyer Mark Hinueber
Mark Hinueber, the Review-Journal's former lawyer and defender of the First Amendment, died in Las Vegas on Aug. 23. Hinueber, who was 66, worked at the RJ and other newspapers for 42 years. On Saturday, his friends and family gathered for a memorial service.
Army veteran honored in Henderson event
Army Sgt. Adam Poppenhouse was honored by fellow veterans in an event hosted by a One Hero at a Time at the Henderson Events Center.
Michelle Obama and Keegan-Michael Key urge Nevadans to vote
Former first lady Michelle Obama and comedian Keegan-Michael Key urged Nevadans to vote at Chaparral High School in Las Vegas Sunday, Sep. 23, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
1 dead, 1 wounded in North Las Vegas standoff
A woman was hospitalized with serious injuries on Thursday morning after being shot inside a North Las Vegas house. Police responded about 11 p.m. to a shooting at a home on the 5600 block of Tropic Breeze Street, near Ann Road and Bruce Street. The wounded woman, police believe, was shot by a man, who later barricaded himself inside the house. SWAT was called to assist, and when officers entered the house, they discovered the man dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Las Vegas Teen Makes Clothing Resale His Side Hustle
Las Vegas resident Reanu Elises, 18, started buying and selling streetwear online when he was a high school junior. Like many other young adults, the world of online resale applications like Depop and Mercari have made selling clothing online for a profit easy. Now, Elises spends his free time at thrift shops looking for rare and vintage clothing he can list on his on his shop. Now in his freshman year at UNLV as a business marketing major, Elises hopes to open a shop of his own one day and start his own clothing brand. He estimates that he's made about $1000 from just thrifted finds in the past year, which he'll use to buy more thrift clothing and help pay for expenses in college. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Fruition Vineyards Encourages Young Entrepreneurs to "Buy, Flip, Dream"
Once a month, young adults gather at Fruition Vineyards on South Maryland Parkway near UNLV to dig through a stack of rare, vintage and designer clothing that's marked down well below it's resale value. Shop founder Valerie Julian began the vent, dubbed "Fruition Vineyards" in August after running her streetwear shop since 2005. The event gives young entrepreneurs the opportunity to "buy, flip, dream" according to Jean. Meaning that they're encouraged to buy the clothing for sale and find a way to resell it for a profit, then reinvest that into whatever dream they pursue: college, a hobby or their own resale business. Shoppers lined up starting an hour before noon on the last Saturday in April for the opportunity and spoke about what they hoped to do with their finds and profits. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Local man goes under cover searching for answers to homelessness
Licensed mental health therapist Sheldon Jacobs spent 48 hours under cover posing as a homeless man in an attempt to gain perspective on the complex issue.
Social Work UNLV Lecturer's Calling
Ivet Aldaba-Valera was the first person in her family to graduate from both high school and college. The 33-year-old UNLV lecturer is now pursuing her Ph. D in public policy at the school and has used her degree in social work to engage with the young Latino and Latina community of Las Vegas. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
The world's longest racetrack could be coming to Pahrump
Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club in Pahrump might be the first racetrack in the world longer than 16 miles long once the expansion is complete. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Gold Point townsperson talks about why he choose to live in a ghost town
Gold Point townsperson Walt Kremin talks about the ghost town in Nevada he calls home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Search for missing 3-year-old boy at Sunset Park
Las Vegas police and Red Rock Search and Rescue team search for a missing child at Sunset Park in southeast Las Vegas on Sunday, Sept.2, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai speaks at Las Vegas tech conference
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban on her way home from school in Pakistan after advocating for girls' education, spoke at VMworld 2018 at Mandalay Bay. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like