Glick death may reinforce opposition to higher education funding
Milton Glick had his detractors, but even the harshest of them were shocked by his sudden death—and particularly by its timing.
“Things are at such a delicate balance down here,” said one legislator. “It could not have come at a worse time. I mean, nothing good is going to come out of this legislature, but there are still things that are up for grabs, and he would have been a help.”
Glick arrived to take the presidency of the University of Nevada, Reno in 2006, when the economy still appeared to be healthy, and the campus was still relatively strong. He expected to preside over a period of growth. Instead, first the election of a governor determined to cut higher education down to size and then a severe recession gave him a very different role—cutting more deeply into campus budgets than any recent president has had to do. UNR has reeled, its research programs and other functions badly damaged and—with the election of another “no new taxes” governor—no end in sight. Glick became accustomed to people telling him, “This isn’t what you signed up for.”
The legislature is changing its budget routine this year. Like most legislatures, the Nevada Legislature relies on a committee system, and great autonomy is given to committees, and nowhere is that truer than in the case of the two budget committees, Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means.
But it’s been a long time since Nevada faced budget choices comparable to those at this year’s legislature, and because all lawmakers are going to have to live with the consequences, the houses are going to try to bring all members up to speed with a procedure called “committee of the whole.” It allows the houses to sit as committees, with different rules from when they sit as houses. The members will then be walked through various budgets.
Glick, Nevada higher education chancellor Dan Klaich, and their colleagues continued working for more revenue even when it was clear that Gov. Brian Sandoval was not going to change his stance and that there is not a veto-proof majority in the legislature. Klaich said after Glick’s death that he and his colleagues were not giving up.
“Well, I hope taxes are still up for grabs, and I hope sunsets are still up for grabs, and I hope mitigation is still up for grabs,” Klaich said.
“I look all the way back to a Review-Journal poll just before the election that showed something like 57 percent of Nevadans supported an increase in taxes to support education,” Klaich said about why he and the others would not give up. “I have had the impression consistently from business leaders in the state who are starting to come off the bench on this and who believe we cannot make progress without a strong education system. So I still think that there is reason to be optimistic, that we will be heard and the message the taxpayers have been sending will be heard.”
He acknowledged that Glick’s death was a setback.
“The timing could not be worse,” Klaich said. “Milt has spent a lot of time making personal relationships, and as you know, politics is all about relationships, and regardless of the work I do or others do, we can’t make up for that. And politics, in addition, is local. So Milt will be deeply missed in some of these final discussions as we are looking for those last critical votes. But what are we to do? We can’t change the events of last weekend.”
So is there a danger that, Glick having cultivated relationships with legislators, votes will slip away now that he is not there to close the deal with legislators who are on the fence?
“I think that is a possibility,” said Assemblymember David Bobzien, who sits on the Assembly’s budget committee. “His vision will be invoked in a similar vein to that of Gov. Guinn’s vision in those final discussions. But yes, there is a potential that by not having him in the room and only having him in the room in spirit, that it makes those closing deals harder to make.” (Kenny Guinn, a former University of Nevada, Las Vegas, president who started a state scholarship program, served as governor from 1999 to 2005 and died unexpectedly last year.)
But Bobzien worries more about the impact of Glick’s death on the UNR campus itself.
“But I think, given the potential for severe cuts to the campus and all of the uncertainty that the campus community is facing in terms of curriculum review and program closures and layoffs and everything else, not having that guiding voice to walk the campus through what all the potential impacts are, I think is going to be a deeply felt loss.”
Glick’s role on campus and at the legislature is expected to be taken up by UNR Provost Marc Johnson, who is known and liked by legislators.
Reaction to Glick’s death seemed to recall I.F. Stone’s remark that in old age he was credited with virtues he never had. Achievements like the new UNR library and student union buildings—underway before Glick’s arrival—were cited as part of his record. With a look of distaste, one fairly new faculty member said most television news reports on Glick’s death had not served the late president well: “I don’t get any sense of what he was like from these stories. They’re obsequious and one-sided. They’re just pandering to grief. I learned more by running a search for old news stories on him that were more objective.”
Some faculty members said Glick’s real achievement on campus was not in physical things like buildings, because he hadn’t had time enough for that, but in the tone and priorities he set on the campus.
As cuts went deeper into the bone of higher education, and functions no one ever dreamed would be affected were slashed, Glick tried to keep an eye on a direct line of connection between students and their education. So in deciding where to cut, he said that some programs, however meritorious, had to give way to those that educated students directly. For instance, UNR’s oral history program—which has contributed much to state history—did not serve that purpose except indirectly, so Glick reluctantly trimmed it to a bare sliver of its former self. As a result, at a time when both students and faculty felt themselves under siege, they knew that Glick championed their interests.
“I never had any doubt that Milton was on the side of the students,” said art professor and former Nevada regent Howard Rosenberg, who had a sometimes testy relationship with Glick. “And I have no doubt that they knew it.” A few days before his death, Glick stopped in to Rosenberg’s office during one of his wanders around campus, and the two joked about their contentious relationship.
Few were saying out loud that the pressure of having to do exactly what he did not want to do killed Glick, but such thoughts were not far below the surface. “It’s inevitable there will be speculation that the stress of it all became too much,” KOLO newsman Ed Pearce observed in a report. “We’ll never know that, of course, but there’s no argument the stress was there, and he felt it all the more because it was clear he cared.”
A group of custodians on campus approached a faculty member and asked if he thought it would be all right for them to send a sympathy card to Glick’s wife, though they didn’t know her. It was a measure of how deeply reaction permeated the campus.