UNR delays farm rezoning plan

Two days after meeting with students and community members regarding the potential rezoning of a 104-acre parcel of the University of Nevada, Reno’s main station farm, interim president Marc Johnson announced today that the initiative will be placed on hold for the immediate future.

In a letter sent out to undergraduates, Johnson cited a need to reaffirm agricultural options at the university, as well as news that a plan to turn land near the parcel into a floodway had been postponed for up to several years. Johnson said the initial plan to rezone the property was to protect it’s value from the flood zone.

“The extended timeframe changes the scenario, and putting the rezoning proposal on hold allows more time as we determine the best use of the Main Station Field Laboratory and all of our agriculture research centers and field lab,” he said.

Below is the full text of the letter:

Dear Student,

Over the past several weeks, I have participated in a series of conversations that has involved students, faculty, staff and constituents regarding the future of agriculture here at the University. These conversations have taken the form of stakeholder groups, community and public forums, and individual correspondence. The level of participation and conviction has been significant, but more impressive is the stated desire of so many to constructively contribute to the betterment of the University and, ultimately, our students and our community. Several thoughtful ideas have come forward and we want to pursue them.

I have arrived at the decision to move forward with postponement of the University’s request to rezone a 104‐acre parcel which borders South McCarran Boulevard and is part of the University’s 1,049‐acre Main Station Field Laboratory. With this initiative on hold, we will work with the community to review and reconfigure our programs to be more consistent with the emerging opportunities across the spectrum of agriculture trends and interests. The quality of the student experience will be at the core of this work, and research and outreach will remain priorities as well. We will also seek to build more industry collaboration that strengthens research and benefits our students, community and economy.

Another contributing factor that guides the decision to postpone the rezoning request relates to regional flood management planning. At a special meeting of the Truckee River Flood Management Authority on Wednesday, we learned that the timeframe for decision-making at the local and federal levels will be extended, perhaps up to several years.  From the outset, our motivation to rezone the 104-acre parcel at this time was simply to protect the future value of the parcel from what appeared to be a near-term risk that it would be designated a floodway. The extended timeframe changes the scenario, and putting the rezoning proposal on hold allows more time as we determine the best use of the Main Station Field Laboratory and all of our agriculture research centers and field labs.

As announced last week, we are moving forward with the search process to fill the position of dean of the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources (CABNR). It was nearly two years ago that we announced the two-year appointment of Dr. Ron Pardini as interim dean, and the time has come to initiate a national search for this position. With the best interests of the University and all of our students in mind, the University will also move forward with our debt buy-down plan for the Fire Science Academy. If approved by the Board of Regents, the plan will free up $4.10 of the current $6.50 per-credit, capital-improvement fee paid by students. These funds will be redirected toward capital improvement funds and projects that directly benefit all students. More on this matter is available here.

To those who stepped forward to participate in the recent conversations, please know that your continued commitment and support will be critical to the future success of our reconfigured programs. Inspiring, encouraging and recruiting prospective students to these programs will be paramount, and you can play a crucial role in this effort.

Continued input on these matters is invited and can be sent to cabnrcomments@unr.edu.



A successful student-professional partnership in Oregon

While carousing through my twitter feed yesterday, I found an extremely interesting story from the Oregon Daily Emerald, the student newspaper in Eugene, Oregon. The story details former University of Oregon Athletic Director Pat Kilkenny, who invested money in several apartment complexes near the university’s newly built basketball arena. It’s a great read, but what interested me more was the story is a joint partnership between the Emerald and The Oregonian, a professional newspaper in Eugene. The story was prefaced by an editor’s note, which reads,

This story was a joint reporting project by Jeff Manning of The Oregonian and Deborah Bloom of the Oregon Daily Emerald. This is the start of an ongoing effort by the Emerald to partner with professional newsrooms to produce public-interest journalism that matters to Oregonians.

Interested, I emailed Deborah, a writer at the Emerald and recent graduate of the University of Oregon, about how working with another newspaper proved beneficial. Questions and answers are below:

(Nate Makuch/Oregon Daily Emerald)

1. How did the idea for this story come about? How long did you and Jeff work on it?
It is well established in Eugene’s development community that Courtside and Skybox are referred to as “Kilkenny’s project.” So after talks with the Oregon Daily Emerald editor as well as the editor at the Oregon, we decided to do some digging and try to do a story on it. My publisher, Ryan Frank, is a former Oregonian employee and had this idea to do a cooperative partnership between the ODE and the Oregonian, and I just happened to be the case study.
2. What kind of benefits did working with the Oregonian give you? Did yourself and/or the Emerald offer any specific advantages to the Oregonian?
Working with Jeff Manning—likely one of the best investigative reporters at the Oregonian—taught me a lot about journalism: how to research public records and file requests, what kind of sources to seek out, how to best interview people, how to write a story so comprehensively. I also had the privilege of meeting many reporters at the Oregonian, which was a good networking opportunity for me. It was honestly such an amazing experience, getting to know Jeff and learning from him. I believe I learned more in that month of digging than I have ever learned in a classroom.
3. How important do you consider this project to be in regards to the mission of the Emerald? What kind of response have you received since the story was published?
It’s an important project in that it delves much deeper into the massive development that is occurring on our campus, and explains how one leads to another. I’ve received some very positive responses, and some negative responses. Some believe that the story did too much to insinuate wrongdoing by Kilkenny, but I believe we were as balanced as possible in this coverage.
Deborah’s comments really got me thinking about how mind-numbingly beneficial it is for student newspapers and professional organizations to work together. For students, it gives them an opportunity to work in a professional environment and on important stories that require more resources than a student newspaper has at it’s disposal. For professional organizations, the benefits include eager & hardworking students, who provide an alternative and more in-depth source of knowledge, especially for issues that affect collegiate campuses and students.
I’ll be watching the Emerald in the future for similar stories, as this is one step that student organizations can take to begin reporting on things that have a tangible impact on their communities. Most student journalists that I know often complain of a lack respect and seriousness that goes into their product–here’s one way to fix it.
I’d also like to thank Deborah for responding to my questions so promptly. Her website is here and her Twitter account is here.

Future Plans

With the school year beginning to kick into high gear, I figure that there’s a little bit more that I can do on this blog than occasionally critique the RGJ or the Sagebrush, which is why I’ve decided to implement some new regular features which should have an impact on everyday student life here at UNR. They are:

  • Start an ASUN Elections Blog: In the past, I’ve covered the ASUN elections for the Nevada Sagebrush, but the set-up and execution of the coverage was minimal, to say the least. That’s why I want to delve deeper into these candidates, and hopefully get a better idea of who they are, what they stand for, and if they know what they’re talking about. I won’t hide my biases here, and I promise to be transparent if I have a pre-existing relationship with anyone I cover. Primary elections are on March 7 & 8, so look for interviews, analysis and more in the coming weeks.
  • Follow Friday- Blog edition: There’s a lot of talented bloggers and students at this university, so I want to start a weekly recurring feature about a student and their blog, in the vein of Twitter’s #FF (Follow Friday) hashtag. If you want your blog featured, feel free to email me.

I’ll begin working on these things next week, as I’m going to Portland for a leadership conference this weekend. If I don’t get mauled by hipsters, I’ll probably post a few pictures and blog a bit.

UNR President Marc Johnson addresses campus issues

Here’s an email that I received several minutes ago from interim president Marc Johnson regarding several controversies and issues that the University of Nevada, Reno has faced during this academic year. Check the links for stories from The Nevada Sagebrush.

Dear Student,

Over the last several years, we have dealt with many substantial issues driven by these economic times. Financial stewardship work has continued in recent months, and significant examples include the closure of the Fire Science Academy and development of a plan to buy down most of its capital debt, the realization of $5.5 million in unanticipated out-of-state tuition, solidifying the future conference affiliation for Wolf Pack Athletics and the proposed rezoning of a portion of the University’s Main Station Field Lab. I am writing to update you on a couple of these and other matters.

First, it was nearly two years ago that we announced the two-year appointment of an interim dean for the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources (CABNR), and the time has come to initiate a national search for this position. Filling this leadership role signals a continued commitment to the educational and research mission embodied by this college. Every college must be responsive and appropriately scaled to the workforce and economic impact of the industries served. In the case of CABNR, constituent input points to the opportunity to define a clearer vision for the college, evaluate and refresh the curriculum, and address today’s industry and issues. Filling the position of CABNR dean is intended to set the college on a positive, stable course that builds on the strength of its faculty, quality of its students and passion of its constituents.

In the coming weeks, Provost Heather Hardy will appoint a search committee for the position of CABNR dean.  Dr. Ron Pardini’s service as interim dean has been appreciated and he will continue in this role as the search moves forward.

A second issue has important implications for all University of Nevada, Reno students. The University’s Fire Science Academy (FSA) closed in December, but its $24 million capital debt carries forward. Our students pay a $6.50 per-credit capital-improvement fee and this fee is currently directed entirely toward the FSA debt service. This situation must be addressed and improved.

In March, the University will present a debt buy-down plan to the Board of Regents which, if approved, will free up and redirect $4.10 of that per-credit fee to capital improvement funds and projects that directly benefit all students.

The debt buy-down plan includes proceeds from the sale of the FSA to the Nevada Division of State Lands and the allocation of funds from other University assets, already approved by the Board of Regents. Through this plan, the FSA capital debt will be reduced to $6.5 million. The University is committed to paying this remaining amount down and freeing up the additional $2.40 of the $6.50 per-credit fee as soon as possible.

Associated with the closure of the FSA are site restoration costs which must be paid by the University as part of the sale. At the Regents’ March 1-2 meeting, the University will request an additional allocation of funds realized through the 2005 sale of the Mill and McCarran property to fund the restoration costs. Our proposal is consistent with prior actions by the Regents. Most important, because our proposal supports the continued buy-down of the debt, it allows the significant portion of the per-credit fee paid by students to be reinvested in campus-wide capital enhancements. This ultimately benefits all 18,000 students.

I would like to share a quick update on two other matters that demonstrate our continued financial stewardship work.

Wolf Pack Meats: With significant funding reductions to public higher education in Nevada, it has been necessary to evaluate programs that are financially supported by the University. Wolf Pack Meats has incurred five years of business-operating losses totaling more than a half-million dollars. Because the University no longer does teaching or research in meat science, we are re-evaluating the subsidy to Wolf Pack Meats.  However, the University has never proposed to close it.

A stakeholders group has been convened, and includes representatives of current customers, local food producers and private meat processers who are concerned that Wolf Pack Meats currently presents unfair, state‐subsidized competition. With stakeholders’ input, we are working toward a formal, open Request for Proposal process by which to determine whether there is interest on the part of someone or some group to maintain the operation of Wolf Pack Meats.

Proposed Rezoning of McCarran Parcel: As noted at the outset, the University has requested rezoning of a 104‐acre parcel which is part of the University’s 1,049‐acre Main Station Field Laboratory. The intent is to preserve the value of the parcel, which borders South McCarran Boulevard and was annexed into the City of Reno in October. The University’s request to rezone the parcel to a Planned Unit Development is compatible with zoning codes and the regional Master Plan requirements, and was approved by the City of Reno Planning Commission in November. The University does not have immediate plans to sell or develop this property; rather, we simply want to plan, entitle and protect it for the future.

At the University’s request and with the support of those expressing concerns, the Reno City Council rescheduled the rezoning request to March to allow time for further discussion. We will host a McCarran Parcel Rezoning Community Forum on Feb. 21, 5-7:30 p.m., in the Joe Crowley Student Union ballroom. A “frequently asked questions” document, available online, more fully addresses this matter.

All of these topics reflect our deep commitment to a quality education and remarkable experience for all students across the span of the University. To accomplish this as we also fulfill our University-wide, land-grant role, we must work toward the most efficient and effective use of all physical and monetary assets. We must build upon the best of our history and the best of what we are today, and continually evolve to serve the current and future needs of our students and state.



Sex sells, but who’s buying?

It’s an understatement to say that the Nevada Sagebrush‘s front page this week is attention-grabbing. It’s a giant red-letter “SEX” surrounded by pornographic visuals and evocative phrases. It’s a nightmare for the readers who consider sex columnist Caitlin Thomas to be the biggest journalistic travesty since Jayson Blair.

Now, I don’t have an issue with addressing sex in the paper, especially in an ‘edgy’ collegiate publication like the Sagebrush. What I do have an issue with is the news judgement. The story directly underneath the fold,  a feature on how Spanish professors Guillermo Meza and Emma Sepulveda escaped a Chilean military coup in the 1970s, is probably one of the best stories the organization will run this year. Why not feature this story prominently, rather than burying it underneath a massive, non-news section? Why not find an excellent photo and feature it prominently? There are so many ways to present this story that could bring attention and recognition to the front page, but the only thing normal readers see is a giant word art of “Sex.”

The lesson here is that unless a story is so important or visually appealing to be worth taking up everything above the fold, content needs to be diverse. Fluffy bullshit about which sex positions are best for each college isn’t worth shoving an actually decent story down the page and away from readers.

A quick and dirty timeline

I put this timeline together in about 2 hours for Donica Mensing’s Journalism 101 class assignment on different age groups and their responses to media. The font used is Big Noodle Titling, which is both a hilarious name and makes pretty good numbers. If I had more time, I would of organized it a little differently and used cutouts of things like Elvis or old radios, but I couldn’t figure out the new version of Photoshop.

The Mark and Riley Show: Feb 10, 2012

I’ll post these on Fridays from now on -Riley

Listen live Fridays at 6 on Wolf Pack Radio. Follow myselfMark and Wolf Pack Radio on Twitter to find out what we’re playing.

Black Flag – TV Party
A Tribe Called Quest – Check The Rhime
Snoop Doggy Dogg – Gin And Juice
The Pogues – Sally MacLennane
The Beach Boys – Good Vibrations
The Avalanches – Since I Left You
Pat Travers – Snortin’ Whiskey
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Burning Of The Midnight Lamp
Toro Y Moi – New Beat
Bruce Springsteen – Atlantic City
Jawbreaker – Boxcar
Soft Cell – Tainted Love / Where Did Our Love Go – Extended Version

Designing without photos in the RGJ

The lead story for the RGJ this Sunday is the lawsuit between Harvey Whittemore and the Seeno family, which really isn’t a friendly story for designers because the only art to work with is mugshots and other, more boring elements. So I like the approach the paper took using text as art, and applying it to it’s readership.

I like the idea but I don’t like the execution. The bookend columns on Whittermore and Seeno are distracting from the main element, and it’s confusing to not have a main story to attract attention–just an extended teaser for inside content. Be bold! Blow that text image up to the full width of the paper, and drop everything below it. That kind of eye-grabbing changes are necessary if you want to attract extra attention to this story. It also balances out the large amounts of white space by the huge boxing skybox.

I’m glad to see that the RGJ is trying to diversify their content and draw extra eyes to an issue, while important, isn’t that appealing visually. But I want to see them do it in the best way possible.

Exploding balloons with shotguns for science

Although I’ve never seen the show, tonight I went to go see the host of Discovery Channel’s “Time Warp,” Jeff Lieberman, and a lecture about curiosity. While his lecture was kind of cool, by far the best part was the video of super-slow motion crap, like exploding balloons with a shotgun or even dropping water into a pan.

Embedded below is a video of some of the things he shown, plus the annoying narration that usually comes with all Discovery Channel crap. But it’s truly beautiful, and worth a few minutes of your time.

Also, just for shits and giggles, here’s the real Time Warp.

A constitutional crisis in the Sagebrush

It’s very off-putting to me to not be involved in the production of the Nevada Sagebrush, as I’ve been regularly working on it for my entire academic career here in Reno. So Tuesday’s edition of the Sagebrush surprised me when I saw “Chapel plans may defy Constitution,” stripped across the top of A1.

What surprised me the most about Ben Miller’s article is that the accusation over the chapel’s legality isn’t really backed up by anything other than vague statements by the ACLU’s Allen Lichtenstein. While the First Amendment certainly does prohibit Congress from making,  “…no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” it doesn’t require anything regarding states.

That process is known as incorporation, or when the Supreme Court incorporates portions of the Bill of Rights to apply toward states. There’s been a number of Supreme Court cases last century which dealt with the 1st Amendment and religion, including these cases. While I won’t pretend to be an expert on interpreting the Bill of Rights, the Sagebrush should have contacted a legal professor or professional before making an unfounded claim on the front page of the newspaper. I don’t have an issue with the chapel itself, I only have issue with backing up claims.

For more on Constitutional law, Cornell University Law School has a great line-by-line examination of the document. Ben Miller can be reached at bmiller@nevadasagebrush.com.