Sprawl, deafness and tiers at UNR

A few months ago a University of Nevada, Reno faculty member told us, “Marc Johnson wants to be remembered as the president who built.”

It’s not working out that way. He’s becoming the president who is deaf and the president who promotes sprawl. And his policies are just part of UNR’s problems.

The community made clear how it felt about Johnson’s “gateway” project, and he did not listen. Back in the 1970s, someone brought a casino project to the Reno City Council. They had in mind a casino on the lot at the northeast corner of Center Street and Interstate 80, a narrow, vacant lot that barely has enough room to be a narrow, vacant lot. Fortunately, the city council had the sense to reject the project, and the strip remains vacant to this day. It took a lot in those days to get the Reno Council to reject a casino, but even it saw the value in that neighborhood. Marc Johnson does not, and that’s not the only failing of UNR these days. The campus and the people of Nevada need to reassess what they want in a state university. We really question whether we are getting it in UNR’s incessant drive to be “Tier One.”

We invite Reno residents to head up to UNR and drive around the section of the campus between Virginia Street, 17th Street, McCarran Boulevard and Evans Avenue. They will find broad swaths of empty, undeveloped land that could be built up without destroying picturesque neighborhoods—and that doesn’t even count the old Manogue High School site acquired by UNR. Then head south and take a look at the fitness center between Lawlor Events Center and Church Fine Arts, a pointless structure costing $45.7 million and generating widespread anger on the campus, including an anti-fitness center website.

Note that tall buildings for a time became popular on campus—the student union, for instance—as the late UNR President Milton Glick started pulling in the campus, torpedoed sprawl, and started selling off outlying properties.

Think of how much petroleum has been consumed in these climate change days since the Redfield campus miles to the south was constructed for students and faculty members who hate the long drive.

We frankly don’t care one bit if UNR is a Tier One university. We wish it were not, because the chase after prestige has become a drag on higher education in Nevada. We want a state university, with all that has traditionally meant, including giving talented but low income students a leg up in life. We don’t care about developing nuclear weapons. Our weapons should be students who achieve, and the diseases we need to stamp out are ignorance and poverty, and UNR is not doing a good job of many of those things, particularly at making college affordable for needy students. Is it just a problem of a staid administration and a need for fresh blood on the hill?

Also in the 1970s, several community leaders attacked UNR Professor Bill Eadington because his scholarly studies of gambling and because his wife Margaret—a leader of planned and controlled growth in the community—bugged them. We loved that friction. It meant that the campus was not getting too cozy with those who have money and power.