NFA, Faculty Senate honor Raggio, talk budget

2/25/2011 - By: John Trent
Senator Raggio Longtime Nevada State Sen. William Raggio was honored by the Nevada Faculty Alliance and Faculty Senate on Wednesday, Feb. 23 as a “hero of higher education. Photo by Theresa Danna-Douglas.

Retired Nevada State Sen. William Raggio told a crowd of nearly 200 faculty, staff and students that he had been lured to the University of Nevada, Reno campus on Wednesday under “false pretenses.”

“I was told it was a Tea Party convocation,” Raggio quipped, looking about the Grand Ballroom of the Joe Crowley Student Union.

Raggio, who retired earlier this year following a record-setting 38-year tenure in the Nevada State Senate, was honored by the Nevada Faculty Alliance and Faculty Senate with “A Hero of Higher Education” award for his commitment and advocacy for higher education in Nevada.

Eric Herzik, chair of the Faculty Senate and a longtime observer of Nevada politics as a professor of political science, noted that Raggio’s principled work on behalf of higher education always began and ended with the state of Nevada’s budget, rather than political dogmas.

“(Raggio) worked the budget as much and as well as anyone I’ve ever seen,” Herzik said. Herzik added that Raggio’s legendary budget acumen would be particularly missed in 2011, as the members of the 76th session of the Nevada State Legislature grapple with an historic budget shortfall. “We all suffer now that he is no longer there,” Herzik said of Raggio.

Raggio, a University of Nevada graduate, promised that even with his retirement, he planned on speaking out from time to time on topics that he felt were important. The longtime Republican and former chair of the legislature’s powerful Senate Finance Committee did not mince words on higher education’s value.

“I don’t understand why people don’t appreciate the importance of a vibrant, well-funded system of higher education,” he said. “We have the basis for a very fine higher education system in our state if we don’t allow it to be decimated.”

Although the state’s executive budget includes $162 million in possible budget reductions for the Nevada System of Higher Education, Raggio said he was hopeful that “there are some solutions that can fit into this political diatribe going on.”

He said that the major budget reductions are not the answer to the state’s economic ills. “We can’t make the deep cuts that have been suggested in major areas, including higher education,” he said. Raggio, always a voice of reason, said that more than anything, it was time to put political ideology aside and that it was time to take “a step back, and take a deep breath. I would hope that others would develop some flexibility with this process.”

James Richardson, a longtime University professor and lobbyist for NFA, said that the current legislative session “is the toughest session I’ve seen” in his 38 years of involvement in legislative affairs.

He counseled those in attendance on Wednesday to be “civil,” yet firm, in making legislative leaders aware of the University’s role in producing the state’s educated workforce and in diversifying the state’s future economy.

“We need to build pressure on the other side,” he said, noting that Wednesday’s gathering included a couple of handouts, including contact information for 15 key members of this year’s 63-person legislative body. He encouraged everyone to contact legislative officials as soon as possible: “We need to build (the University’s argument for less severe cuts) in a rational, civil manner to explain what will happen if this budget is approved.

“We need to keep pressing the message that (a budget reliant on deep cuts) doesn’t work and that it doesn’t work for higher education and the state of Nevada. … It’s not going to happen by itself. We have to explain it to people in terms that they understand.”

Glenn Miller, president of the University chapter of NFA, also noted that a rally to save the University would be held on Wednesday, March 2, on the University Quadrangle beginning at 5 p.m. Faculty, students and staff are all invited.

For more information, contact Glenn Miller, president, NFA University chapter, glennm@unr.edu


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