Crises on the hill

A dean, president or faculty member is fired and a substantial part of the university community is riled up. Ah, it’s the University of Nevada—in 1954, 1970, 1983 and 2003.

Somehow the little school on the hill managed to grow into a rather good university despite bouts of unrest and misgovernment. This occurred despite the mandates of those newly in power who arrived with little sense of the culture of the campus and community.

Also at play in each case were the demands of the faculty for genuine participation at all stages of decision-making.

They came to the university one at a time: First, President Stout, who fired some truly great professors in the 1950s in order to create an authoritarian presidency. The Nevada Supreme Court saved us from Stout, and the American Association of University Professors censured the Nevada administration and Regents.

The Regents and a few overly assertive university lawyers presided over the then University of Nevada-Reno when activist professor Paul Adamian was fired in 1971 and a new University Code was imposed on the faculty in 1983. The Adamian firing was condoned by a federal appeals court after an initial federal court decision ordered his reinstatement. The initiators of the draconian Code, the school‘s constitution, relented only after major national periodicals ridiculed the Regents. 1983 was 1955 all over again, but wiser heads then prevailed as Joe Crowley negotiated an armistice upon which we built 18 excellent years.

The peace at Nevada from 1984 to 2002 ended soon after John Lilley arrived. Leadership is about persuading the not yet persuaded and mobilizing the best staffers to accept positions of responsibility. Many current faculty members at UNR see this lacking in the current presidency. This was certainly indicated by the 24-3 vote against the process and quality of his reorganization plans, a vote influenced by the administration’s gaffs in relation to the Planetarium and other matters affecting the students, faculty and community.

The viability of the two Nevada universities now depends on the enactment by the Legislature of Kenny Guinn’s tax package. Major changes are needed at UNR, and they will require substantial new state, private and federal funding. For example, the new academic centers, new positions for deans and directors and the proposed library will not fit easily into available resources.

The solution to the present impasse is to precede the now unpopular reorganization with a successful major development campaign targeted at funding start-up costs for an ambitious new era at UNR. This will require the use of available funds to create the university‘s first fully professional development operation. When these funds are collected and dedicated to new centers and programs, faculty and other support will follow enthusiastically.

In 1983, Joe Crowley was around to move the university back to unity and progress that lasted at least until the Fire Academy fiasco. Perhaps Chancellor Jane Nichols, an indispensable presence, together with a few dozen good regents, administrators and faculty members can soon restore the needed stability, trust and confidence on the hill.