Harris calls for transcripts between Trump and Xi to be released

Kamala Harris speaks to a crowd at a Reno Town Hall event at UNR

Presidential hopeful Kamala Harris on Thursday called for President Donald Trump to release transcripts of his calls with Chinese leader Xi Jinping “knowing that he has now publicly invited a foreign government to interfere in an election of president of the United States.”

“I mean, clearly the guy has not learned that you as president of the United States are subjecting yourself to impeachment when you do things like that,” Harris said to reporters after a Reno town hall. “What I am calling for….we should be sure to get a call on Donald Trump to give up any transcripts or any notes taken about any conversations that he has had with Xi to determine whether this is a conversation that he’s had more than one and had it private because clearly he is inclined to do just that.”

Harris’ remarks came before CNN published a report about Trump talking to Xi about former Vice President Joe Biden and after a town hall at the University of Nevada, Reno, that drew about 400 people to the Joe Crowley Student Union to hear the California senator push her “Dude Gotta Go” theme.

Before her town hall, Harris visited with UAW workers, who have been striking outside the GM distribution center in Northwest Reno for 17 days. She spoke to picketers about the importance of “fighting the good fight” and keeping unions strong.

With about 40 people in front of the distribution center, Harris told them her work with Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who was the Nevada attorney general at the time, to fight against predatory loans that caused the recession in 2007. Harris, Cortez Masto, and other attorneys general fought for consumer protections that could prevent another mortgage crisis. 

UNR students voice fear about campus climate after racist, discriminatory images appear at school

Students at UNR's Joe Crowley Student Union

By Stephanie Serrano | KUNR

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on the KUNR website and has been translated and adapted from its original version as part of a partnership between KUNR and The Nevada Independent.

More than a quarter of students at the University of Nevada, Reno reported that they had seriously considered leaving the school because they don’t feel a sense of belonging, according to a recent survey on school climate.

The results unveiled earlier this month at campus forums come as the university is grappling with racist and discriminatory messaging found around the university in the first few weeks of the fall semester. There have been two separate incidents of swastikas being found at Wolf Pack Tower, a residence hall housed at Circus Circus in downtown Reno, and flyers were also seen in at least five buildings on campus that promoted a white supremacist hate group. 

University officials have also expressed concerns about images circulating on Twitter showing the LGBTQ flag being burned.

"These hateful events do not reflect at all our students nor the university community," said Eloisa Gordon-Mora, the University of Nevada, Reno’s Diversity and Inclusion Officer. "We have over 300 student organizations that are all about uplifting endeavors." 

Gordon-Mora says roughly 40 percent of the student body is comprised of students of color. 

The school released the findings of its Speak Your Truth campus climate survey during two forums on Sept. 18. A little more than 200 university students and faculty showed up to the first forum to hear survey results that have been anticipated for several months.

The university contracted Rankin and Associates Consulting in 2018 to create and conduct the survey, which had questions related to campus climate overall, unwanted sexual experiences, perceptions of employment practices and work-life balance. Nearly 6,400 surveys were included in the analysis from a campus that has almost 31,000 people.

One initial finding was that a large minority of respondents feel significantly less comfortable with the overall campus climate, including women, people of color and LGBTQ+ community members.

“This campus is built for everyone; everyone who is qualified to go to school here should be a student here and be comfortable being a student here,” UNR President Marc Johnson said. “People from all socioeconomic groups, disability groups, ethnic groups, should feel as though they have a place on this campus.”

Johnson supported the request from students and faculty to conduct the survey.

One student who participated in the survey was Lucas Furrer, an undergraduate student double majoring in journalism and political science. He voluntarily took down a poster with white supremacist messages.

As for the campus climate, he says it doesn’t feel too great. He says he wishes the university would have more active policing to address hate groups, instead of condemning these actions through a mass email.

“I would say, people are fearful of what's coming next,” Furrer said. “There's been such a steady stream of activity by these groups, by these individuals, that it makes someone scared of what’s going to happen next, and you see some of the worst case scenarios on TV. You just hope that it doesn't happen here.”

Taylor Dupree is a Louisiana native and a Ph.D. student in counseling education at UNR. She started in the fall of 2017, the semester that followed the national exposure of a Nevada student who participated in the Neo-Nazi hate riot in Charlottesville.

“The incident at Charlottesville happened, and I had people from the program that I am currently in emailing me and texting me like, ‘Hey, I just want you to know this is not a representation of our campus. Please don't believe that this is the case for us,’ and I believed them,” Dupree said. “I was like, 'OK, this is an incident where something happened with someone and the university is going to take the steps that it needs to take,' and since I've been here, I've been wrong.”

Dupree was also a part of a focus group conducted by the university before the survey where she described the microaggressions she says she has faced due to her gender and race as one of two African American women in her program.

Dupree has spent the last three years in Reno. She’s had thoughts of leaving each year, but now says she’s worked too hard and wants to be proud of graduating.

A big question circulating among attendees at the forums: What is the university going to do with this data?

Johnson says the survey will help guide what committees need to be developed to improve the living and working life of the institution.

As the university starts this work, students like Furrer and Dupree want to know how their safety concerns will be addressed.

“Well, we do everything we can to investigate these incidents," Johnson said, "and then, if we can find the perpetrators, we will prosecute them, but we encourage everyone to take personal responsibility for safety — you walk in groups and you have these conversations, so we are doing education, we are doing investigation, and prosecute, if we can find perpetrators."

KUNR Reporters Andrew Mendez and Noah Glick contributed to this report.

Disclosure: The license for KUNR is owned by the board of regents to the Nevada System of Higher Education.

Circus Circus owners see benefit from interim UNR student housing deal: no hotel room tax

Students at UNR's Joe Crowley Student Union

One of Nevada’s largest casino companies is likely to slice off a significant portion of its tax bill after reaching a deal to have hundreds of University of Nevada, Reno students use the Circus Circus Sky Tower for temporary student housing.

As part of UNR’s $21.6 million deal with Circus Circus for interim student housing after explosions mangled two residential dorms, the university and casino will avoid paying the normal 13.5 percent hotel room tax that would otherwise be collected from individuals staying in those rooms.

The tax issue was discussed prior to the announcement of the arrangement between the casino and the university; according to a public records request submitted by The Nevada Independent, the Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority confirmed to the school prior to the finalization of the rental agreement that it would not have to pay the lodging tax if the rooms were used for student housing.

“As the University will have ‘control’ of the portion of the Sky Tower which it leases, and because such portion of the Sky Tower will be used exclusively to house students, faculty and other University employees, such use is not included within the definition of ‘transient lodging’ and thus is not scheduled to the payment of the transient lodging tax or associated surcharge,” RSCVA Director of Finance Robert Chisel wrote in a July 26 letter to university administrator and Republican state Senator Heidi Gansert.

Gansert, through a university spokesperson, said the room tax issue was “not a consideration” for the university when looking for replacement student housing. A spokesperson for Eldorado Resorts, owner of Circus Circus, did not respond to a request for comment.

The arrangement between the state’s flagship university and Eldorado Resorts, which became the nation’s largest casino operator after a merger with Caesars Entertainment earlier this summer, came after a major explosion in early July at one of the university’s primary residential dorms, Argenta Hall. The explosion, which was later deemed to have been caused by boiler room issues, injured eight people.

Within weeks, university staff began talks with Circus Circus to house the estimated 1,300 students who would otherwise reside in Argenta and Nye Halls. The final contract, which was signed and approved by university and Nevada System of Higher Education leaders on July 31, redubs the building as “Wolf Pack Tower” and includes nicer amenities than the typical dorm room offerings, including once-a-month maid service.

“The University looked at other properties throughout Reno-Sparks. None can replicate what the West Tower can provide – 1,300 beds, complete University control of the entire building, and proximity to our campus,” the school states on its website for the new “Wolf Pack Tower.”

According to the contract, the $21.6 million to rent the tower will be paid in monthly installments, which the university has said will be partially covered through insurance claims. Students began moving into the building last month.

In addition to the rental payments from the university, Eldorado Resorts will see another benefit — at least a year of not having to pay the 13.5 percent room tax on the 907 rooms inside the tower.

It’s possible that taking the Circus Circus rooms off the hotel rental market could result in a seven-figure impact; assuming static occupancy rates and the average cost of a downtown Reno hotel room, the total amount of taxes diverted could be greater than $2 million.

But accurately projecting future tax impacts of the decision to take the 907-room tower effectively off the market is difficult. The RSCVA said it doesn’t collect statistics on individual properties, and statistics from the tourism agency indicate that the supply of rooms in downtown Reno isn’t exactly exhausted — the percentage of cash and comped room occupancy in the 2018-2019 fiscal year is just 52.4 percent, and 11 percent lower than in the previous fiscal year.

Elliott Parker, a professor and chair of UNR’s economics department, said in an email that he didn’t have specific information on how removal of the rooms would affect tax collections, but that given the current abundance of rooms in the downtown area and potential shifts in pricing, removing the typically cheaper rooms from the market could actually increase overall hotel room tax collection.

“In such circumstances, removing a building of rooms from the supply would just shift customers to other properties (or the other building in Circus Circus), and push room cash rates up,” he said in an email. “So tax collections could feasibly even rise, assuming overall visitation does not decline in response to smaller availability in one hotel.”

Universities collect big royalties while students pay higher banking fees

It may not rank as high as new bath towels or retro movie posters for the dorm, but an important item on many students’ pre-college checklist is setting up a new banking account.

For students at UNR and UNLV, there’s an easy answer — both schools encourage students to set up free banking accounts linked to their student IDs, backed by major financial institutions including Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank.

But the relationship benefits more than students  — each educational institution is paid more than six figures annually from the large banks, which in turn assess higher-than-average fees on the students.

Allowing college student ID cards to double as a prepaid banking card for on and off-campus expenses isn’t a new idea, but the practice has come under more scrutiny in recent years amid reports of colleges and universities inking lucrative deals with big banks that later slap students with hefty overdraft fees and other fines.

Federal studies have indicated that average fees on linked accounts for college students are higher at schools paid to promote the cards. It’s true at Nevada’s universities, where average fees on linked accounts ($49.17 for UNR and $21 at UNLV) are higher than the average fees paid by students at colleges without a bank marketing agreement.

A woman does business at an U.S. Bank inside the Student Union building at UNLV on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. (Jeff Scheid-Nevada Independent)

A 2017 Wall Street Journal investigation into the relationship between banks and colleges found that 112 universities took in a combined $18.7 million in the 2017 fiscal year, largely from bank royalties paid to schools. The newspaper's investigation found that 20 of the 30 colleges with the highest average fees assessed on students had partnered with Wells Fargo — a fact the bank said was because of “complex banking needs” such as meeting the financial needs of international students.

Additional scrutiny of the relationship between large banks and higher education institutions came in a February 2018 report by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which found students using college-backed banking accounts paid more than $27.6 million in fees over the 2016-17 academic year.

Notably, the study found fees were almost universally higher for students if they attended a school being paid by the banks to promote the accounts. Roughly 839,000 students paid an average of $11.93 a year in fees while attending schools without a paid promotion agreement, but the 482,000 students at schools with college-linked accounts paid an average of $36.52 in fees.

Wells Fargo was again found to assess the highest fees of any financial institution, accounting for more than half of fees paid out despite only holding about a quarter of all college-backed accounts.

“The Bureau and other government entities have expressed concern over the relationship between revenue sharing provisions in contracts and fees charged to student account holders,” the report stated. “In particular, these provisions raise questions about potential conflicts of interest, including whether revenue sharing encourages higher-fee financial products that crowd out competition from providers of accounts for which student account holders would avoid high fees and/or accounts where all student account holders overall would pay less in fees.”

The report was only made public in December 2018 via a Freedom of Information Act request submitted from a national progressive group and was not publicly published by the bureau itself. Former CFPB student loan ombudsman Seth Frotman, who resigned his post in February, accused the bureau’s new leadership under President Donald Trump of suppressing the report.

“Anyone that looks at this data and the extent to which large banks continue to team up with colleges and universities to gouge the student body with overdraft fees should be outraged,” he said in a statement published by MarketWatch.

Congressional leadership has also questioned the practice. Following the announcement of a slew of sanctions, including a restriction on growth by the Federal Reserve over years of bank misconduct, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois (the Senate Democratic Whip) sent a letter to bank CEO Tim Sloan in March asking him to halt expansion to future college campuses.

An aide to Durbin told The Nevada Independent via email that the senator is still concerned about the bank and “believes students deserve to know the dangers associated with Wells Fargo, including being sanctioned by the Federal Reserve, and how it has taken advantage of consumers by aggressive financial marketing on college campuses.”

UNR has contracted with Wells Fargo for linked “WolfCard” ID cards since 2006, and the school reported having 14,415 linked banking accounts with students and faculty registered with the program in the most recent school year.

The average fee paid by a UNR student on their Wells Fargo account was $49.17, well above the national average of fees paid by Wells Fargo cardholders with college-linked accounts nationwide and at the high end nationwide. The median fee paid by students was $5.

The university has benefited financially from the relationship, receiving more than $610,000 from the bank since 2006, including a $75,000 royalty payment and more than $6,700 in card fees in 2018 calendar year. Like other schools, UNR’s royalty payment is a variable rate based on the percentage of students and faculty with linked accounts.

The agreement between Wells Fargo also includes a $10,000 annual marketing budget, as well as the right to present the bank’s services and open bank accounts during new student orientation, as well as the right to use the university’s logo in certain marketing materials and on the cards themselves.

Penny Leathley, the director of the university’s WolfCard program, said she hadn’t noticed many student complaints with the program, stressing that it was free for students and that parents found the program useful to track spending and to allow freshmen students new to Reno to do their banking on campus.

“I know that Wells Fargo has had some bad PR over the last few years, but I think we have a very good program, they’re very good to the students,” she said. “So, I’m pretty happy with it.”

Leathley said she was aware of the CFPB report on high fees charged to college students, including the higher fees charged by Wells Fargo, but couldn’t speak to the fee amounts given that much of the account-holder proprietary information was kept by the bank.

“I know that information is out there, but our account is free, so I don’t worry about it too much, I guess,” she said.

Wells Fargo spokesman Tony Timmons said in an email that the bank was proud of the services offered to university students, stating that about four out of every five students continued banking with Wells Fargo after graduation.

"Before and since the CFPB’s review on this topic, we have been pursuing customer-friendly actions that support students, such as sending automatic zero balance alerts, and removing monthly service fees on our Everyday Checking accounts for customers ages 17-24, a benefit we had already offered to our Campus Card customers," he said in an email. "We will continue to take additional steps to better serve our student customers and help them succeed financially."

UNLV holds a similar contractual agreement with U.S. Bank, which offers a “RebelCard” to college students, faculty and staff. The university was given a $70,000 “signing bonus,” after signing the contract, and like UNR is given an escalating annual payment based on the percentage of students with linked cards, as well as royalty payments from an on-campus ATM, a $40,000 athletic scholarship, and $15,000 each to the card program and office.

In total, the bank paid $115,680 to the university in the 2017-18 school year.

In the 2017-18 school year, 752 students held “RebelCard” linked accounts, with an average annual fee of $21 and a median fee of $0. U.S. Bank spokesman Evan Lapiska said looking at the average fee was “misleading” due to the “number of variables and customer choices that can result in a fee being assessed.”

UNLV spokeswoman Cindy Brown said in an email that the banking services offered convenience to students, and that the linked accounts were overwhelmingly similar to the fee and benefit structure of the bank’s other offerings.

There are no monthly maintenance fees, no minimum balance requirements, and all transactions at U.S. Bank ATMs are free,” she wrote in an email. “Charges are consistent and typical of any type of bank account, including overdraft fees and transactions at non-US Bank ATMs.”