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NEVADA VIEWS: A higher ed commitment to Nevada

The year 2020 has been among the most challenging years this generation of Americans has ever faced. From political divisiveness and civil strife to the COVID-19 pandemic that continues throughout our great state and nation. But amid the difficulty, there are encouraging signs.

The pandemic has reinforced the importance of science to society. Working together, the solutions and strategies offered by members of the faculties of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the University of Nevada, Reno have shown the transformative power of institutional collaboration to the benefit of the state.

Many of the answers to today’s problems — including the development of medicines to stem the tide of the coronavirus and decrease mortality rates — are rooted in research-oriented academic institutions. We have seen this firsthand at both our universities in areas ranging from testing, treatment and translational research — as faculty experts have been among those at the forefront of the state’s response to COVID-19.

It is in this spirit of optimism that we, the newly appointed presidents of our respective universities, are continuing this work together, along with the new Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dr. Melody Rose, to forge a new path for our state’s two research universities. Observers are undoubtedly familiar with a history of competition, occasionally acrimonious, between the two institutions. Rivalries are natural and, when accompanied by mutual respect, can even be beneficial. Competition for resources and talent can drive us to new heights.

However, our state is undergoing a transformation. The pandemic, and the associated economic fallout, dictates that we focus not just on individual entities but on Nevada as a whole. The state unemployment rate was at 12 percent in October, while our tourism industry continues to suffer the effects of anemic travel demand and nearly nonexistent convention traffic. State tax revenue has plummeted as a result, placing an extraordinary strain on the many services government provides Nevada’s citizens. This time, more than any in recent memory, calls for unity in the interest of the common good.

A strong educational system does more than simply increase individual incomes, it supports our collective prosperity by drawing new employers to our state and broadening our economic base, creating a sturdier and more resilient Nevada. The fact that Nevada has two research institutions that have been rated “R1” — the highest classification available — by the prestigious Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Educations bodes well for our future. Our foundation is solid, but, as the presidents of our respective universities, we have a solemn responsibility to build upon these accomplishments and make Nevada synonymous with excellence in academic achievement.

The pandemic has forced us to make significant operational adjustments, but it has also given us an opportunity to strengthen our focus on priorities. While there will undoubtedly be times where we have differences and compete for resources, our larger purpose — student success — will always remain at the forefront of every decision. Nevada’s academic institutions benefit both the current and next generation by producing well-educated leaders and providing our state’s businesses the highly qualified employees they need to thrive.

As we work toward a return to normalcy, look for a level of synergy never before seen between the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the University of Nevada, Reno. We may be separate institutions, but we are united in our goal of exceptional education for the students who have entrusted us with their futures, as well as the employers who will rely upon those future professionals and leaders. This is our commitment to you, the people of Nevada.

Keith E. Whitfield is the president of UNLV. Brian Sandoval is the president of UNR.

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