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UNR President Johnson On The Way Forward For The University


It's been an eventful few months for the University of Nevada, Reno.

One of its students was photographed at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia over the summer. UNR police came under fire for how they handled a traffic stop involving a former football player and current graduate student.

University President Marc Johnson told State of Nevada he was shocked when he found out that a student at the university was at the Charlottesville rally.

"The picture started floating around, and I was shocked that we had white supremacist thoughts in individuals on our campus," he said.

Johnson said students and faculty were concerned about their safety when they found out the young man was enrolled at the school. The school was also concerned about the young man's safety.

"It wasn't just that we were giving extra special attention to this young man, but we did think that his safety was… it is very important that we protect him, but the whole campus turned out for a safety talk as well," he said.

He said that incident has since calmed down but other incidents, including the one involving a former UNR football player and current graduate student, stirred up more concerns.

"We've put a lot of effort into assuring everyone that the values of this university are steadfast and that we support diversity and inclusion and we are against bigotry and hatred," Johnson said. "These events have had the impact of bringing faculty together, bringing discussion groups, bringing students together in discussion groups and allowing us to message the fact that we are very solid in our viewpoints, and we support everyone who comes to this campus."

Johnson has been an outspoken advocate for continuing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, otherwise known as DACA. He talked to Nevada's congressional delegation about keeping the program intact.

President Trump has given Congress until March to create a permenant fix for the program, which allows people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children to stay if they meet certain criteria.

"The threat to end DACA in Nevada has put these families and students in a great deal of fear and distress," Johnson said. "The actual ending of DACA in a short period of time would remove the opportunities for these young people to work, to go to school and improve themselves, and probably work here in the future if they can get green cards."

He also said ending the program would have a "chilling effect on the atmosphere" of the campus and hurt the campus' diversity efforts.

Creating a more diverse faculty has been an aim for President Johnson for a long time. He created the Integrated Implicit Bias Search Committee. 

"It's very important with a diversifying student body that we diversify our faculty," he said.

The committee is designed to help those making final decisions on hiring to be aware of their implicit biases, to overcome those biases and to choose the right person for the job objectively.

 "We want our students to be able to come to class and take classes from professors with a variety of backgrounds, a diversity of backgrounds so that they can get a diversity of approaches to their disciplinary studies," he said.

UNR has also made strides in its quest to become a high-level research university and is embarking on wide-spread capital projects. Johnson said the university has new dormitories, new athletic facilities and now it's working on academic buildings -- including a new art building and a new facility for engineering.

He said an expanding student body requires more faculty and more support staff, but he believes money to pay for those expanded and updated facilities must come from sources outside the state.

"I think institutions are going to be more and more on their own in terms of finding financing," he said. "A growing institution has just got to do a lot of their own financing."

While he knows that institutions need to do their own fundraising, he would like to see more investment of public money.

"It would be very useful to do some real focused investments in higher education for particular public policy initiatives related to higher education, workforce development, and research & science," Johnson said.

Marc Johnson, president, UNR

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Casey Morell is the coordinating producer of Nevada Public Radio's flagship broadcast State of Nevada and one of the station's midday newscast announcers. (He's also been interviewed by Jimmy Fallon, whatever that's worth.)