The wonders never cease. Right on the heels of a presidential campaign that reawakened the country’s interest in politics and a historic inauguration day that drew 2 million people to Washington D.C., students are rallying at UNLV. They’re holding signs and chanting slogans and booing and cheering at all the appropriate intervals. They’re protesting, and not just a hopeful handful.
A crowd of roughly 2,000 college students, teachers and supporters gathered on UNLV’s campus Thursday night to protest Governor Jim Gibbons’ proposed 36 percent budget cut for high education. That’s $472 million less than was allotted in 2007, and money that will likely affect many aspects of Nevada’s higher educations system from class sizes, to course offerings, to teacher salaries, to tuition fees.
And Las Vegas’ students and teachers had plenty to say about it. Powerful words filled the air outside Frank and Estella Beam Hall during the hour and a half-long rally. There were words painted onto signs, words shouted on stage and words chanted in unison by a crowd heady on public protest.
Here are the words of the evening:
“I kant spell cuse of our ed system," read a homemade sign held by a student at the front of the large crowd.
“If we stand up, if we stand together, there is no end to what we can accomplish,” said UNLV pre-med student Michael Ulrich.
“We can change the minds of our lawmakers, and we have the power to shape our future,” Ulrich added.
“Buck Fudget Cuts,” read a sign close to the stage.
“I took a political risk and said, ‘That budget doesn’t make any sense. We should reject it completely,’” said UNLV President David B. Ashley, of his reaction to Gibbons’ proposal.
“Go right past the Governor,” Ashley directed the students.
As a few rain drops began to land on the heads of the crowd, rally host and radio personality Chet Buchanan said, “That’s not rain, God is just crying over budget cuts.”
“Cut schools, increase prison cells,” read a hand-painted sign.
“I hear the same old scenario of ‘Why should I care?’” said Grace Salazar, Regional Vice President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). “My children are out of school, but their children, my grand children … it’s the future.”
“All these students should be commended for being here and protesting something so appalling as what the Governor is trying to do,” Salazar added.
“I want you as you go home tonight to forget who the governor is. He is of no importance,” said Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Jim Rogers.
“(I came to the rally) because the budget cuts affected one of the classes I wanted. I don’t think literature should be cut any more than it already is,” said Michelle Brooks, a UNLV masters student in the English department.
“When I first enrolled, I thought I had just found this great program. I’m from Pittsburgh, so I traveled like 2,600 miles to get out here, and now I’m finding out that if they cut 52 percent of (UNLV’s) budget I might not get a degree. That really worries me,” said Sam Harr, currently enrolled in the MFA and creative writing programs at UNLV.
“It’s a nationally known university, and if they start talking about cutting this and cutting that just to make the budget fit … I think that this is one of the most important assets to the state of Nevada,” Harr added.
“This legislature has the ability to be veto proof,” Rogers said. “They are not going to let this system go to hell.”
He charged the crowd, “You have 63 people that you need to persuade to support you and your future.
“Governor Rogers! Governor Rogers!” chanted the crowd.
CSN alum, UNLV graduate and Nevada State Assemblyman Ruben Kihuen offered his support as well. “You need 62 (legislators) now, because you have my unconditional support.”
Above the crowd hanging from a light pole, a UNLV banner waved in total sincerity: “She is mapping her own future. The future is now,” read the words next to a photo of a young woman with a backpack smiling broadly, her education and her entire career ahead of her. What’s 36 percent less of a future look like?