NSHE now trying to tell the truth; some worried honesty will hurt them politically

Victor Joecks

There’s an amazing article today in the Las Vegas Sun on the Nevada System of Higher Education. Written by David McGrath Schwartz, it details the efforts of some in NSHE to tell the truth.

Higher education is trying a new approach to proposed budget cuts: honesty.

After three years of reacting to proposed budget cuts with vague prophecies of doom – thousands of layoffs, eliminating athletic teams and the closure of popular schools – the higher education system is trying to provide detailed and more realistic scenarios for what would happen under Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget.

Of course, if you’ve been reading Write on Nevada, you know about both Chancellor Dan Klaich’s admission of past hyperbole from individuals in NSHE as well as how some officials in higher educationincluding Klaichhave continued to overstate those cuts.

Officials who are committed to telling the truth should be acknowledged and praised – and it’s a sad commentary that something as basic as truth telling must now be recognized, because it’s been so rare.

Klaich’s stark confession of past hyperbole was a great starting point. It’s not Klaich’s fault that former chancellor Jim Rogers frequently exaggerated. Klaich’s admission of past mistakes is the first step toward an honest debate.

Regent Ron Knecht should also be noted for creating a spreadsheet that contains the last 12 years of NSHE operating budgets. This kind of accurate and easily accessible information lets anyone fact-check statements made by higher-education officials.

And why do some in the higher-education establishment oppose honesty? Because being honest would make it harder to scare people into action.

But in their effort to be forthright, some higher education officials worry they are hurting themselves politically by making cuts appear less dire. …

Whether it’s higher education, Nevada K-12 schools or health and human services, campaigning against budget cuts is an exercise in mobilizing supporters to clamor for services and pressure policymakers.

It’s easier to mobilize supporters if you lie to and scare them. That’s why I’ve repeatedly urged citizens in Nevada not to be manipulated and to fact-check what they hear and read.

Unfortunately, NSHE’s newfound commitment to honesty (although some, like Knecht, have been honest throughout) is not shared by all special-interest groups.

The budget reductions for UNLV, UNR and CSN are on the table. Let the debate, now with accurate information and alternative suggestions, begin.