BARBWIRE

The Empire Strikes Back
by
ANDREW BARBANO

This is an edition of the University Scandals 96-97 series, selected installments of which were submitted for Pulitzer Prize consideration. Click here to access the archive.

EPISODE 7: Now it's personal. Before we get into the latest outrages of a university administration drunk with its own power bought with your money, I need to get a few personal items off my chest. Dozens of people have asked me about my motivations in making the University Scandals of '96 a second full time job for the past seven weeks.

Originally, I was galvanized from the gut by Mary-Ellen McMullen's TV spots advocating her candidacy for university regent. Every commercial carried the name of her campaign treasurer, Harvey Whittemore, the principal perverter of politics and democracy in Nevada. Like Harvey, Mrs. McMullen's husband practices in the juice lawyer/lobbyist subspecies of law.

They buy politicians upfront by shoveling campaign money to the compliant, then cash in their access and influence when those people win office. Mrs. McMullen, a political unknown, was all over TV with a $50,000 budget trying to win a six-year job paying zero salary. Somebody had to say something. I could not stand by and watch Harvey brazenly add to his stable of politicians. All Mary-Ellen's commercials were also ads for Harvey's juice law firm.

Harvey was the point grease man for gambling's wall to wall wins during the 1995 legislature. His most dubious distinction involved engineering passage of the Hilton-backed Tailhook Bill, which made suing hotel-casinos next to impossible for someone beaten, robbed, raped (or worse) therein. Harvey even inserted retroactivity into the bill, which would have wiped out Tailhook whistleblower Paula Coughlin's court victory against Hilton. When the former naval aviator showed up to protest, Harvey made a big show of ordering lawmakers to remove the provision, thereby ensuring passage. His generous show of compromise turned the nation's most famous sexual molestee into an unwitting accomplice against future rape victims. Lord Vader serves the emperor well, but still had the balls to place his name on the spots of an avowed women's rights activist.

Now, what was intended to be only a one-column potshot against a sure winner's steamroller has turned into a ragpickers crusade. Luke Skywalker and the rebel alliance won and the empire is spitting mad. Without authorization from the board of regents, university chancellor Richard Jarvis has brought legal action against Prof. Howard Rosenberg, who defeated Mrs. McMullen in the biggest political upset in Nevada this year. Mr. Rosenberg's crime seems to lie in the fear that he might empty the piggy bank controlled by a narrow clique of academic alchemists adept at turning leaden incompetence into personal gold.

And that's why I've spent so much time and taken so much heat over all this. I remember of whence I came. I'm the son of immigrant farm workers from Italy. I graduated high school with honors, but never could have afforded to go to college had I not benefited from the accident of birth in California. I am a product of the same university that gave Nevada Joe Crowley and Jerry Tarkanian. I'm a bulldog from Fresno State and I get so damned mad when I see guys in thousand dollar suits pissing away money that should go toward educating future children of the great unwashed.

So to all the rich folk in the gambling-industrial complex, this game is now personal. I detest your sucking up to PhD's as you seek legitimacy, validation and, most important, expiation for your sins of running a legalized whorehouse, peddling drinking, gambling and the bodies of women.

You excuse your greed by saying it's a legal business and we're just providing a service. Everyone who peddles dissipation and deprivation always cloaks it in words like "it's good for jobs."

A letter to this newspaper last Friday put matters into perspective much better than I could. Reno resident Mike Beesley stated that "the people of northern Nevada owe a debt of gratitude to FerenÁ Szony, president of the Reno Hilton, for his untiring work for the Food Bank of Northern Nevada...This is particularly noteworthy as Mr. Szony has probably done more than anyone else during the last few years to create this very need," Beesley accurately stated.

"Under his guidance, the two Hilton properties have violated federal labor laws, harassed and intimidated employees over - not only labor problems, but simple health problems - and essentially endeavored to keep the local standard of living at its incredibly low level," Beesley said. My favorite Hilton shenanigan is their habit of illegally firing women for the crime of pregnancy.

Just in time for Christmas, Mr. Szony is in the process of pink-slipping his security guards for refusing to take an hourly pay cut from $11.83 to $7.75. Some of them are getting old, having been with the Reno Hilton since it opened as the MGM Grand in 1978. The Food Bank will do a booming business this month.

The only hope for the children of the workers lies in public education. As Joe Crowley and I were graduating from Fresno State, Gov. Ronald Reagan was busy turning the greatest educational system the world had ever seen into just a pretty good one, sorta. Thirty years down the road, Joe's running a school that has always reminded me a lot of Fresno State before my alma mater became large and impersonal.

Alas, President Joe, who won his job Nevada style - through backslapping and lobbying as opposed to qualifications - has lost his way. He's running an outfit increasingly similar to a casino, gambling with public money and hoping he can cover his markers before the check hits the bank.

For the past six weeks, I have reported case after case of cash-hemorrhaging corruption, lawsuit-spawning cronyism and financial finagling. I have detailed the existence of ghost professors getting six-figure salaries who never show up for work. Our able colleagues at the Reno News & Review have fleshed out that story, and added confirmation to the university's epidemic of deficit spending. In the current edition, Crowley even shows a flair for Szony-style age discrimination. Defending paying lawsuits out of salary budgets, Crowley told reporter Deidre Pike "eventually we make money on it. Hire a younger professor and within three years or so, you've recouped what you've paid for one year." What a guy.

In an interview with Tribune columnist Dennis Myers, printed in the News & Review November 13, Mary Sanada, former chief accountant for the state controller, confirmed ex-university system treasurer Janet MacDonald's scathing financial criticism of the empire. A major legislative audit due out December 18 should shed some new light on these issues. Rumor has it that the university administration is trying to get the report watered down.

The audit, pushed through the 1995 legislature by dissident Las Vegas Regent Nancy Price, has turned the administration paranoid. Perhaps that explains the campaign to destroy regent-elect Rosenberg before he ever takes office.

I made it my business this week to talk to some prestigious former regents. Every one supported Rosenberg's right to serve notwithstanding the Jarvis-Crowley attempt to use a hodgepodge of confusing laws to either disqualify or impoverish the 29-year UNR art and cinema teacher. Molly Knudtsen, who represented Elko for two decades, said "I can't see any reason why he can't serve." Harold Jacobsen, who represented the Carson-Douglas area for a dozen years, said "it might not be a bad idea to have one professor on the board."

Indeed. Both the University of California and the California State University systems have long provided slots for both faculty and students on their governing bodies. One statewide office holder, who asked not to be named, was much more blunt: "It's a bunch of shit. Howard should be allowed to serve. The university needs a shakeup. He'll stir them up. He's really something they need. Howard's a good man, the administration's worst nightmare come true," the politico told me.

"Just his election sent a message that people are tired of the bullshit, $30,000 and $40,000 pay raises...You'd have to be a babbling idiot not to understand. Rosenberg deserves to sit on the board. He's going to do more good for the system and (not) its phony bastards. He's going to ask questions and get the maximum benefit for the university system. (These legal actions) are an arrogant use of public money, trying to stymie the election. There will be calls for Jarvis and Crowley's resignations if they oust him...In all my years here, I've never seen one person intimidate so many," the source said.

Another longtime former regent has no use for Chancellor Jarvis. "He started charging increased fees to out-of-state students. These people, for example, from Susanville, consider themselves Nevadans. As a result, enrollment has dropped. That is very difficult for a university to overcome and causes cutbacks and raising fees to other students," the former regent said.

And so we see Mr. Jarvis going to the rubber stamp regents asking them to authorize more deficit spending when he knew Regent Price could not attend. Only this writer and no one else reported last month's supplemental financial agenda. (The Reno Gazette-Journal chose to ignore the millions of dollars involved.) The U was $1.3 million past due in fees to the state injured workers insurance fund (SIIS), for which it was hit with a $52,000 fine, another item reported nowhere else. Jarvis' PR person wrote me a letter saying the money would be "temporarily" borrowed from the university institutions. "That's deficit spending and calling it a loan," said a knowledgeable insider. Jarvis also got the regents to authorize skimming $1.5 million from student housing maintenance fees for the long delayed mines library, the money for which has turned up missing at the UNR Foundation, which illegally refused me access to their legislatively mandated public records.

They also got the rubbernecker regents to rubberstamp an attempt to skim $3.5 million from endowment funds for future SIIS payments. That's eating the seed corn, something acceptable only to crows and the Donner Party. Jarvis is still pushing a proposal that the regents hand him fully one percent of all university endowments so he can go play fundraising games. Which brings me to the biggest game of all.

Perhaps alone among U.S. institutions, our little U uses lines of credit to generate "matching funds" to win grant money. Then they repay the loans from the grant money. All this allows time drag for lots of financial shell game shenanigans, but the bank issuing the line of credit still charges for use of its interim funds, so it looks like a net loss situation. That seems to be the Jarvis-Crowley equivalent of handing a post-dated marker to one of these check cashing services which pays you less than face value and puts it through on payday. Nonetheless, the rubberstamp regents authorized extension of a $1 million line of credit for "research." If all this sounds suspiciously familiar, go check into that financial shambles called the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority.

Perhaps the legislative audit will point out these serious flaws. Perhaps not. Perhaps regent Rosenberg will start asking official questions come January. Perhaps not.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Late Friday, I received a copy of a memorandum from Chancellor Jarvis to all regents and regents-elect. "Enclosed are a set of articles published recently by a Mr. Andrew Barbano in the Sparks Tribune. They represent the worst collection of fabrications, cheap shots and smears that I have come across in my career in higher education." (This comes from the guy who ordered his minions to break the state public records law by refusing this newspaper access to legislatively mandated public documents.)

"There were originally supposed to be five articles," Mr. Jarvis wrote. (Who told him that? This is installment seven. I never announced a set number. Never had one. Still don't.) "As the main targets appeared to be Joe Crowley and me, I wanted to wait until we could compile the full series." (He leaves the implication that he had information on how many I would write, then uses it as an excuse for keeping the regents, most of whom live in Las Vegas, in the dark.)

"Now, Mr. Barbano has published a sixth article that specifically refers to several members of the Board, among quite a wide cast of others. I would urge you to read that top article, dated December 1st. In addition, Mr. Barbano appeared on Channel 8 here in Reno and repeated several allegations against the Board, against the particular regents mentioned in his December 1st article, and against me. I am trying to get videotape copies of that interview and will mail them to you as soon as possible.

"I believe to continue to let Mr. Barbano's allegations stand without response is damaging to this System, although I recognize the futility of engaging in any extended debate with a journalist of this caliber. I have written to the editor of the Tribune formally refuting his allegations about UNR...I will continue to be as responsive as I can to other members of the media," Mr. Jarvis concludes. (This reinforces his policy of refusing to talk to me which began when he canceled my appointment to inspect public records, thus breaking the law.)

His letter to the editor was quite vague. Basically, it says everything I've printed is a lie, but makes an intriguing challenge: "Let me invite him and you (the editor) to attend any meeting of the Board of Regents and raise his concerns there, in an open meeting where the public can hear the questions and the real answers."

Jarvis-controlled regents meetings are puppet shows with issues decided in advance. That's why he's moving heaven and earth to keep Rosenberg off the board. With Mrs. Price present, an embarrassing question or motion stands a chance of getting a second. I've got a more amusing idea. How about letting me attend some of the regents closed meetings where the real action is?

Better yet, how about a special televised regents meeting with a public audience able to ask questions about all of these things I've been lying about. I bet we can get it simulcast live statewide for a couple of hours. This is your big chance, Sir Richard the Lyinhearted. You can get medieval on my ass in front of 100,000 rapt viewers. You might even sell sponsorship to the Mirage or one of Harvey's other clients.

Can you handle some serious rock 'n' roll? Since you won't talk, send me a fax sometime.

JOIN THE CLEANUP COMMITTEE: A growing number of angry citizens statewide have expressed interest in forming a citizens committee to keep the public's vote for Rosenberg from being stolen and to investigate the wholesale corruption in their university system. If you're interested, write P.O. Box 10034, Reno, NV 89510. You may also send an e-mail.

XEROX STOCKHOLDERS DEPT. The University Scandals of '96 proved a bestseller in their premiere week at public copy machines. One person ordered 60 sets of this series the first day it became available. For just the cost of copying, you can send the information to your friends for the holidays. Ask for the Barbano file at the business services desk of either Reno Office Depot location. One's next to Costco on Plumb Lane. Another just opened in the new Fire Creek Crossing on Kietzke Lane extension west of S. Virginia Street. You might want to call ahead so they'll have copies ready. The Plumb Lane number is 829-2582. Kietzke Lane's is 823-9099.

In Sparks, copies are available at Nevada Instant Type, 508 Victorian Avenue, east of Pyramid Way going toward McCarran; call 359-4835. I'll e-mail the entire seven-part series to anyone with download capability. The hard copies are more fun because you get Jody Lindke's killer political cartoons as a bonus. For any member of the board of regents, I'll provide copies free so they won't need to wait for Mr. Jarvis.

One consumer note: Please don't assume that this seventh installment you hold in your hand will be immediately available. I need a day or two to make the rounds.

Be well. Raise hell.
-30-

Andrew Barbano is a Reno-based syndicated columnist and 28-year Nevadan.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988.
This column originally published 11/3/96. Copyright © 1996, 2010 Andrew Barbano

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