On Wednesday night, Jim Rogers fell went to bed at 6:30 p.m.
“But I was up at about 4:30,” he says.
On Thursday night, at 6:30 p.m., Rogers looked like he was again about ready for early beddy-bye as he waited to take the stage in front of about 2,200 sign-wielding students on the UNLV campus. The throng congregated like moths drawn to a porch light in the courtyard behind the school’s Student Union building. “Don’t be afraid to come to the stage!” shouted UNLV student body vice-president Vik Sehdev, chief herder for this occasion. “The TV cameras need to see a big crowd!”
In no need of goading was Chancellor Rogers, the 70-year-old cancer survivor, onetime trial lawyer and current media magnate. On this night he was the star of the show. He sat alone for about 30 minutes before taking the stage and, like a scene out of Cocoon, came alive to charge up the student-laden audience. In this case, the governor is absolutely irrelevant!” he told the cheering crowd, which resorted to a chant of “Raaaah-gers!” similar to the “Reeee-bles” cry at UNLV basketball games. “The governor is no longer part of the equation.” Rogers is going after each of the 64 members of the state legislature to override Gov. Jim Gibbons’ state budget, which calls for cuts of up to 36 percent to higher education funding (which could mean halving UNLV’s budget). “If you have a house, and half of that house burns down, and you have a bedroom over here and a kitchen over there, nobody is going to want to live there!” Rogers called out. He also said that students who were concerned about his idea of raising tuition statewide by 25 percent should know that if Gibbons’ budget were put into place, tuition would vault by 225 percent.
“Thank God, we have a legislator that can patch up what the governor has screwed up!” Roger also said that each member of the legislature will not accept the cuts to higher education, saying, “This legislature has the ability to be veto-proof,” though he didn’t specify how he arrived at that happy conclusion.
Afterward, the free-of-charge chancellor, who donates his modest $23,666-per-year salary back to the higher education system, was still pretty fired up.
“How’d we do?” he asked, not interested in listening to the answer. “I’m feeling pretty good, pretty good.”
I asked how much fight Rogers had in him in the effort to essentially save quality higher education in Nevada.
“Well, I like the fight,” he said. “I grew up as a trial lawyer. Every Monday morning I walked into a courtroom and, you know, you get accustomed to that. I like the fight – I’ve got no trouble with it. Hey, we’ve got truth and justice on our side. I really believe that. I think we’re doing the right thing for the right reasons for the right people, and that’s easy to sell. I don’t take a salary, you know? I’m not in this for my health. Just having a good time and doing it because I love it.”
“You’re going to win this, aren’t you?” I said, poking at the embers.
“Oh yeah, we’re going to win it,” he said. “We’re going to win it, yeah!”
He didn’t quite punch his fist in the air, but he didn’t need to. The kids already had that handled.