New leadership at SNU leads to questions among staff, students

Miranda Jacobson
The SNU and UNR merger is expected to take a year.
Miranda Jacobson/ Tahoe Daily Tribune

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — The state board of regents recently approved a merger between Sierra Nevada University and University of Nevada, Reno, in the next step of what is an estimated year-long process in combining the two institutions.

UNR, which is set to completely run the school by July 2022, still must wait for additional approval from other educational agencies, including the US Department of Education and the Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities.

UNR President Brian Sandoval told the Tribune that for the next academic school year, students at SNU can expect no major differences or changes to their educational experiences.

“The bottom line for us is to protect students and make sure all their credits transfer so that they will graduate on time in the degree field that they have chosen,” Sandoval said. “So that is the priority.”

The merger approval comes a month after SNU did not renew nine contracts with long-term professors. Two were from the English department, which leaves the entire department with only adjunct professors.

Author and former SNU undergraduate professor Gayle Brandeis is among the faculty that left, but by her own accord, after witnessing changes at the school following a new administration coming in the previous year.

“It’s been brewing for a while,” said Brandeis. “I was concerned about the new administration from the start.”

After cycling through a number of presidents in the last few years, SNU recently hired Dr. Robert Valli, who began making large changes from the beginning of his term as president.

Brandeis’ concern, which first started with President Valli’s decision to recommend a free book skimming site to students during his opening address to the SNU community, began to grow when he fired long term faculty, including Provost Shannon Beets and professor Dan O’Brien.

“It was so sudden,” said Brandeis. “And so shocking, especially since she had been such a heart of the school.”

After President Valli created new administrator positions for the school, Brandies felt confused when she found out nine of her faculty members had been let go.

“He created a bunch of new jobs that didn’t exist, which required money from the school,” said Brandeis. “And to me, those easily could have been the first thing to get cut instead of faculty members, some of whom have been at SNU for over 30 years.”

This, along with her previous concerns, caused her to leave the undergraduate program in solidarity with her fellow faculty members.

The news broke shortly before it was announced that SNU would be acquired by UNR as a gift. Only a few weeks later did students receive an email announcing that President Valli would be leaving the school effective July 30.

Valli did not respond to multiple Tribune requests for comment.

With the fall enrollment rate of SNU hitting just 200 for undergraduates and 350 for graduates, many students on campus are considering what the future holds.

Eagle’s Eye editor and junior Brayden Stevenson said that although there are many avenues for him to take in terms of secondary education, he knows he has to stick with SNU.

“I have a lot of personal routes I could take, but I believe in the work I’ve been able to do,” said Stevenson. “So I’m committed to the people that make SNU, or made up what SNU was when I first came here.”

Stevenson, who is actively involved on campus through environmental projects and outdoor recreation, as well as his active role on the school’s paper, has been scratching his head for months over the changes that President Valli made last year, but said news of the merger finally put the pieces together for him.

“I think now that we’ve seen the merger take place, it’s easier to kind of wrap my head around all of the events that happened prior to that,” said Stevenson. “We kept hearing this phrase that Dr. Valli would throw around, something like, ‘In order to work towards our new vision at school, we have to do this and this and this,’ but nobody knew what that vision was.”

Now, knowing the fate of the school, Stevenson is more determined than ever to keep the spirit of SNU alive for incoming students, to give them an experience he feels they deserved, and he was searching for.

“I was definitely fully committed and bought into the idea of SNU,” said Stevenson. “That’s why it’s so hard to sort of leave that vision behind.”

President Sandoval said that one of his biggest goals as the merger begins to take place over the next year is to make sure the students of SNU know that the unique culture of the school will not be lost.

“I understand the special culture and intimacy and character of that campus, and that is something that is really complementary to what we have in Reno,” Sandoval said. “I think it’s really important to preserve what you all have up there with SNU.”


Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.