InsideHigherEd directs us to a remarkable piece published in the Las Vegas Review Journal over the weekend. The upshot of the story, authored by Bethany Barnes, is simple: the Nevada System of Higher Education hired a consulting firm to develop ideas for improving Nevada’s community colleges, but the state’s higher education leadership largely buried the report because it was critical of . . . the state’s higher education leadership.
The Review Journal based its story on emails it obtained through an open records request. Here is Constance Brooks, vice chancellor for government and community affairs, in one such email: “I say we just take what we like out of the report and do away with the rest.”
But that’s not even the whole story. Dissatisfied with the initial results, Chancellor Dan Klaich wrote to the researchers and managed to obtain a rewrite, with which he was more satisfied, although most of it was ultimately buried. ““I like it. I think it is believable,” Klaich later told his staff. “You could draw attention to things that would be more positive for the [Nevada System of Higher Education], but I think that would call independence (of the researchers) into question.”
It’s not uncommon for clients to be unhappy with the work of outside consultants, and no one expects even leaders subject to open records requests willingly to broadcast very damaging results. What’s troubling about this story, if the parts of the emails quoted by the Review Journal tell the full story, is that the higher education leadership in Nevada was more bent on keeping ammunition from its perceived enemies than it was on improving Nevada’s community colleges. As Barnes puts it: “officials feared the report could be used by their critics and suppressed the findings in fear that reforms would dramatically reduce their authority over the schools.”