UNLV student body president to Legislature, regents: I don't support what the rest of the student leaders want


UNLV student body President Mark Ciavola boycotted Nevada Education Day in Carson City last week and sent a scathing missive to regents and lawmakers about his colleagues' priorities.

The memo, pasted below, indicates that Ciavola, a well-known Republican, former college GOP boss and ex-Rep. Joe Heck operative, is against many of the increased funding agendas of other student leaders.

Ciavola clearly is causing controversy on campus, too, as this piece on a liberal website indicates. It's worth the read. UPDATE: Ciavola, saying this is a partisan attack and the liberal site is full of inaccuracies, responded here.

The letter:

To: Nevada Legislature


From: Mark Ciavola, CSUN Student Body President


CC: Chancellor Dan Klaich, NSHE

       NSHE Board of Regents

       President Neal Smatresk, UNLV

       CSUN Officials


Date: February 25, 2012


Re: Nevada Education Awareness Day



It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as UNLV’s undergraduate student body president for the Consolidated Students of the University of Nevada – Las Vegas (CSUN). During this time, my team and I have made great strides on behalf of the students we represent by reducing our own salaries, increasing scholarships, planning successful events, and serving as the voice of students on the most important issues we face in higher education. In this position I am also part of the Nevada Student Alliance (NSA), which is comprised of all student body presidents for all NSHE institutions in Nevada – both undergraduate and graduate.


Today, the Nevada Student Alliance will assemble in Carson City to host a breakfast for legislators and speak with legislators throughout the day on the issues that matter most to them in this current legislative session.


However, it is with deep regret that I have decided not to join them as UNLV’s undergraduate representative for Nevada Education Awareness Day in Carson City.


Unfortunately, the Nevada Student Alliance chose to adopt NSHE’s legislative priorities which include, as the number one priority, restoration of faculty and staff salaries. Four years ago when faculty and staff received a 4.7% salary cut students had no idea they were about to see their tuition increase 50%. Today, as tuition has doubled since 2007 and fees have skyrocketed over the last decade, students are told that the top priority for the Nevada System of Higher Education and the administration at UNLV is restoring faculty and staff pay cuts? That may be fine for the individuals who represent faculty and staff, but it is not fine for me and it is not fine for the students I represent. In fact, CSUN unanimously passed a resolution opposing this very action on April 23, 2012.


I fully understand that paying faculty a competitive wage is the best way to recruit high quality professors at UNLV. However, despite UNLV’s current crop of quality professors many students are taught by graduate assistants – including in their 400-level classes. The focus on research at UNLV has taken these professors out of the classroom. It has worsened the quality of education that students receive and has done nothing to improve our dismal graduation rates. It has forced UNLV to hire gaggles of part-time instructors to fill in the gaps. These non-tenured instructors, who teach more classes than tenured professors despite being “part time”, are the first to be lost during times of budget cuts. And while I recognize that UNLV has lost some good faculty due to budget cuts over the years, I have a special respect for those faculty members who remained at UNLV despite losing 4.7% of their six-figure salaries. I can’t say the same for those who left.


Ignoring these challenges for the sake of appearances does nothing to solve them.


At first I thought that being honest during my trip to Carson City would be the best course of action. I reached out to UNLV’s Graduate & Professional Student Association (GPSA) President Michael Gordon, who serves as NSA Chair, to determine if it would be appropriate to voice my concerns. He informed me that the NSA representatives from the rural colleges had agreed to show a unified front on the funding formula – NSHE and NSA’s second priority – despite the fact that they are opposed to it for obvious reasons, and that my honesty might unravel this delicate arrangement. I find this to be appalling. The fact that anyone in our position would agree to show a “unified front” on an issue they know to be harmful to their institution and the students they represent, only to later go back and express their honest opinion when they aren’t wearing their NSA hats, shows this entire NSA production to be a farce.


While I look forward to supporting a new funding formula that recognizes UNLV’s proper place within the System, I also take issue with NSHE’s, and therefore NSA’s, third priority – the Knowledge Fund. This is a one-time $10 million allocation to provide research dollars to faculty and students. With the amount of research done by faculty and graduate students at UNLV, I do not see how undergraduates – whom I represent – will have an equitable chance for funding against such stiff competition. Therefore, I would much rather see this money be put toward improving the quality of education or student services on campus – a promise yet to be delivered upon after the last tuition increase in December 2011.


I love UNLV. It is where I chose to go to college. I enjoy giving back by representing students in their student government. I fully support hiring top-notch faculty, a funding formula that provides UNLV with its appropriate share of resources, improved access to classes, improved student services, and the ability to bring in research dollars. However, all of this takes a back seat to ensuring that students are treated as customers and not as the System’s ATM. For too long, students have shouldered the greatest burden of the “shared sacrifice” so many have invoked during the past few years. As their representative, I cannot, and will not, support a platform that does not put them and their education first.


With that said, I will be personally contacting each legislator and each member of the Board of Regents to discuss my positions further. This is a turning point for education in Nevada. It is not the time to be silent. It is not the time to acquiesce. It is not the time to feign unity. It is the time to work together to solve the challenges we face with honest and productive discourse, and ensure that those we represent are represented properly in the debate.