Protected pianists at the Casablanca College Casino

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.

For everyone searching for the true reasons Howard Rosenberg got elected to the University and Community College System of Nevada Board of Regents, perhaps a redneck bartender said it best. This man loves Dole, hates Clinton and probably likes Pat Buchanan. He voted for Jim Gibbons over Spike Wilson for congress. This guy is Mr. Conservative White Male. But he voted for Howard Rosenberg, his teacher 22 years ago. "Howard will take care of the students," he said on election night.

Kind of makes you feel good that Reno is still enough of a small town that someone's reputation counts for something and can overcome an expensive media blitz.

Only readers of this newspaper had any advance notice that the only surprise victory of last Tuesday was really no surprise at all. Prof. Rosenberg's longstanding reputation in the community gave him a strong base upon which to make his case that there should be one regent among 11 who can speak from the front lines of education.

Rosenberg didn't have much money to spend, but he really didn't need it. He ran a little TV to remind people who he is and that he's serious. He had a small army walking precincts. The alternative media, this newspaper included, provided the margin of victory.

The Tribune, the Reno News & Review and the UNR student newspaper, Sagebrush, all went against the grain to question the well-monied juggernaut of the status quo. I know for a fact that this column has made the Xerox Corporation a lot of money in the past several weeks. The Barbwire has been stuck to bulletin boards all over the University of Nevada campus.

Those who love the university enough to criticize its corrupt , cash-hemorrhaging administration tell me everything I've written rings true and stands unchallengeable. The powers that be, however, became quite ticked off.

Jenny Frayer, vice-president and treasurer of the UNR Foundation, expressed maximum inflammation and irritation at me. First on her agenda was that no one talked to her to get financial information from the horse's mouth. I talked to her boss, Paul Page, but I guess he's not high enough. "You're really painting a bad picture when it's not true at all," she told me. "Are you just trying to hurt the university?" She then intimated that I was just trying to campaign for Howard Rosenberg. She also wanted to know the identities of people giving me all this erroneous material. I declined.

"Your information is so inaccurate," she said, adding that she took my revelations of financial skulduggery personally. "You said I'm doing a lousy job." Wrong. I never knew she existed when I wrote the first two installments of this neverending story.

After she had returned fire, I asked her to explain why I can't find a record of the missing $2 million from the university-owned Marigold Mine in a report Mr. Page had sent to me. She refused to answer questions over the phone, preferring a face to face meeting on her turf, which will take place next week.

If anyone has any questions they'd like me to ask, my e-mail addresses appear at the bottom of this column. For those of you who've missed the action the last two weeks, you've missed more than 5,000 words of multifarious nefariousness in the name of education. Ms. Frayer did pay me the ultimate compliment about last week's piece. Some parts were so laughable, she said she thought she was reading a Dave Barry column. If I've made you both laugh and cry, you've paid me the highest compliment you can. And Barry's already got his Pulitzer.

The missing $2 million is perhaps the most important issue at hand. The U has been out of compliance on a federal grant for three years and may lose 60 to 70 percent of $15 million unless it moves quickly. The Mackay School of Mines is supposed to have a new mines library under construction. When they sent over to the UNR Foundation for $2.5 million from the Marigold Mine earmarked for that project, only $483,000 was in the account. The rest went somewhere, perhaps to pay off a legal judgment in an unrelated matter. Ms. Frayer asserts the money's there and she can show me where. The Mackay people will be overjoyed when I get the information next week. So will the U.S. Dept. of Defense inspector general.

Last week, I also questioned more missing millions, another pair of $2 million losses, one of which was confirmed by Rosenberg's campaign opponent and foundation trustee Mary Ellen McMullen. Mr. Page differed with her on the amount. He told me that about a year ago, a rogue stock trader cost the U about $200,000 from its investment in an outfit called the Common Fund based in Connecticut. They had their New York City PR man call to enlighten me on the situation. He promised me the same official report on the loss which both Mr. Page and Mrs. McMullen promised to forward. None of the above have produced the document.

I found it rather curious that a PR man from New York City was called in to give me the word from the horse's mouth. Made me wonder what parts of the horse remain in Nevada.

The empire will strike back. A media counter-offensive is underway which will try to discredit anyone printing the truth. University apparatchiks have been holding skull sessions in Carson City. One credible source tells me that high administration operatives are preparing a strategy to make sure that Regent Rosenberg will be prevented from voting after being seated in January.

The Friday before the election, the McMullen campaign got a document to talk show host Patrick Frisch at KRNV-fm. Mr. Frisch faxed it to the rest of the media. It was a letter dated June 19 from the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau to Assembly Speaker Joe Dini (D-Yerington). Responding to Joe's request, legislative lawyer Brenda Erdoes found a law apparently targeting nepotism and cronyism in obtaining university contracts. She issued a statement that, in her opinion, the law requires someone such as Prof. Rosenberg to give up his paycheck in order to serve for six years at zero salary as a regent.

Anyone who knows Rosenberg knows he will not leave the kids. Thirty years of distinguished teaching were validated last Tuesday as the now-adult students came to the polls in droves to place Howard on the board of regents.

A legislative counsel opinion is just that. It carries no weight in law or regulation. Lawmakers have long manipulated the counsel bureau to come up with proper-sounding legalese to defend a preferred constituent or a pet position. In this case, knowledgeable insiders say the preferred constituent was very probably gambling-industrial complex juice lawyer Sam McMullen. The pet position was the regent's job Mrs. McMullen wanted.

Sam McMullen has been putting money into casino owner Dini's campaigns for years, going back to when he was chief legal beagle for Harrah's. Leaking the questionable legislative counsel letter to the news media four days before the election was a ploy calculated to put the final dirt on the grave of Rosenberg's candidacy. Dini had it since June. In whose interest was it to go public in October?

Now, I have information that moves are being made at the highest levels to keep Regent Rosenberg voteless in office. It must not be. Too much is at stake.

The university foundation's tax exemption is in jeopardy because of a financial shell game the IRS frowns upon. Contributors from bygone years could conceivably get letters saying they owe tax on contributions disallowed because of the financial finagling involving the Marigold Mine. (See last Sunday's column.)

Last week, I told the tale of ghost professors on the university payroll, currently paid as active faculty when in reality they have been working at other schools for years. University Chancellor Richard Jarvis assured me he knew nothing about this. I beg to differ. I have talked to credible educators who brought that matter to Mr. Jarvis more than a year ago.

Chancellor Jarvis reminds me of Claude Raines in Casablanca, standing in the middle of Rick's illegal casino, saying he is "shocked, I tell you, shocked to find out that gambling is going on here." The overpaid weasels at the U are more like the piano player in the whorehouse who swears to the cops he didn't know what was going on upstairs.

Mr. Jarvis said he would investigate the missing mining millions and the ghost professors. I haven't heard back from him, but that's understandable. He's been busy. Some $7.3 million is missing at UNLV, chalked up to inability to balance checkbooks down in Gomorrah South. The southern Nevada campus is rife with speculation that the money curiously got lost about the same time the U settled with defrocked Rebel basketball coach Rollie Massimino for $1.8 million.

The U is also $1.3 million upside down paying its injured workers insurance premiums. While the Nevada State Industrial Insurance System will still pay claims, they will charge a stiff penalty, about $52,000. So scratch a few scholarships, who cares?

Mr. Jarvis told me he was going to arrange to borrow the money from the individual schools in the university system to make up the short term shortfall. He added that a 1997 $1.5 million refund, based upon low claim projections, would be forthcoming from the Nevada State Industrial Insurance System. That's a crapshoot.

One insider said that Jarvis is going to the board of regents for a bailout funded from the university's federal inheritance tax endowment. The principal in this trust fund is never supposed to be touched. Alas, as the feds do with the Social Security Trust Fund, the U intends to take out a loan in exchange for an IOU. No bank will lend to the U to cover the shortfall because there's no firm source to guarantee payback, according to a financial expert. Stay tuned.

The election of Regent Rosenberg has banged down the lids on a lot of cookie jars, bruising fat fingers and fatter egos in the process. Rosenberg will be in a position to second motions made by Las Vegas dissident regent Nancy Price, until now a lonely voice crying that something sinful is going on above the piano lounge.

Jarvis' carefully controlled, no-debate regents agendas will thus be blown. Public discussion may break out, God forbid. They must stop Rosenberg at all costs.

Don't let it happen. Last week at a statewide teleconference, I announced the need to form a statewide citizens group charged with examining university issues. Those more radical than me say only grand juries have the power to unravel the Gordian Knot of university money games, cronyism, intimidation and retaliation.

Just remember Alexander the Great's radical solution to the Gordian Knot. We have another classic case at the U. It calls for a sharp sword, not a butterknife.

Be well. Raise hell.
Andrew Barbano is a Reno-based syndicated columnist 28-year Nevadan.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988.
This column originally published 12/22/96. Copyright © 1996, 2006, 2010 Andrew Barbano

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