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May 20, 2009
By John Trent
As the University of Nevada, Reno finalizes what is hoped to be a final round of budget reductions in the next few weeks, President Milton Glick emphasized to a Town Hall meeting on Monday, May 18 in the Ballroom of the Joe Crowley Student Union that although 15 percent cuts are painful, the alternative proposed only a few months ago could have been much worse.
In January, Gov. Jim Gibbons’ budget called for a 36 percent reduction for the Nevada System of Higher Education’s budget. Last week leaders in the Nevada State Legislature announced a 12.5 percent budget reduction for the System; however, the actual reduction differs for the individual institutions. For the University, the projected reduction is 15 percent.
“It’s not a pretty picture,” Glick said of the $4 million shortfall that the University is facing. “But it’s a picture that’s a lot prettier than what we were looking at.”
Glick emphasized that the University’s decision-making process continues to be framed by the institution’s belief that student success must remain a priority.
“Our first priority is to our students, and that they will graduate with a quality education,” he said. “And, that we would protect our research infrastructure to the best extent possible.”
This premise guided how the University’s total anticipated reductions of $33.1 million will be distributed across the eight University budget categories, as outlined by the state. Reductions to the University’s Instructional Budget and to the School of Medicine will total about $24.9 million of that figure. The $24.9 million figure represents a 13.8 percent reduction for the Instructional Budget and a 13.9 percent reduction for the School of Medicine.
Glick noted, however, that the goal in the budget reduction process was to keep those two entities below a 15 percent cut. Statewide Programs (including many of the campus’ centers and institutes) received a 33.8 percent cut while Intercollegiate Athletics, Cooperative Extension and the Agricultural Experiment Station each took a 17 percent cut. Business Center North and the State Health Laboratory each received a 15 percent cut.
“We essentially re-distributed a 15 percent reduction so that it gave some dollars to the Instructional Budget and the School of Medicine at the expense of the other units,” Glick said. “We didn’t look forward to cutting these other units, but we made these decisions knowing that students are our most important priority.
“The biggest loss (by percentage) was in the Statewide Programs, where many of our centers and institutes are located. The hope is that some may continue if they can become more entrepreneurial to generate more of their own revenue.”
Provost Marc Johnson said the budget reduction process required an examination at individual areas rather than at making a single “across the board” cut of all programs.
“To preserve core programs has meant that you cannot do an across the board reduction,” he said. “People have come forward and talked to us very seriously about cutting large portions of their operations. And in most cases they have done this with the thought of finding replacement for this funding (such as through non-state grants).
“Many have become, as Milt said, more entrepreneurial, with the thought that they would start smaller and then grow back.”
Johnson explained some of the $4 million shortfall is attributable to the University’s loss of “salary sweeps” for vacant positions. He said that in order to get credit in the budget reduction, the University has actually had to close the vacancies, so the funds related to the vacancies cannot be used for temporary instruction. He said the University is budgeting temporary instructional lines in the colleges to keep classes available.
“For the last several years, we have maintained lots of vacancies,” he said. “And we’ve swept all of the money out of the vacancies so we could cover temporary instruction. In order to get credit for these budget reductions, we’ve actually had to close these vacancies. We no longer have this source of income for temporary instruction.”
Faculty Senate Chair Elliott Parker, a professor in Economics, put the last few months into an easily understood context.
“Our state’s budget crisis is the biggest of any state, partly because our state is doing unusually badly and our unemployment rate is higher than the national average,” he said. “But the main reason for these problems is our state has the smallest general fund in the entire nation. We have a general fund that is half of the average state.”
Compounding the University’s situation, Parker said, is the fact that, “Unlike firms that go out of business because they have less business, what we’ve been asked to do is to do more with less. We’re teaching more students because during a recession more people, not less, go to college.”
Glick said that even if more students are to attend Nevada, raising tuition has become an unavoidable fact of life for the campus. In addition to a 5 percent undergraduate tuition increase already planned for fall 2009, an additional 5 percent increase will be considered by the Board of Regents at their June meeting, for a total increase of 10 percent. If approved, 100 percent of this additional increase would stay with the University, rather than a portion returning to the state, and it will be used to support student financial aid and other purposes.
“Our students, our student leadership, have been very understanding about this, and have shown a willingness to protect the quality of their education,” Glick said.
Glick added that he was hopeful students would take full advantage of a combination of financial aid packages created by the tuition increase to keep their college experience affordable. He noted that with tuition tax credits, Pell grants and other financial aid programs to cover tuition, fees and books, “It means it’s not a free ride, but it does show we are committed to every student receiving a quality education and feel they are not limited by financial reasons.”
Glick also noted that salary cuts for classified staff, perhaps reaching 4 percent, will be mandated by the Legislature.
“We’re not happy about that,” Glick said, “whether it’s either 4 percent or a day (of furlough) a month, particularly when you consider this is a reduction of the salaries of our lowest-paid employees. Assuming we have to do this, we have been told that their retirement benefits will remain the same.”
Glick said such salary cuts would be included in, and not be in addition to, the current budget.
“Those salary cuts are part of this budget,” he said.
Both Glick and Johnson remained relatively confident that the University would not lose many more positions, with about 200 positions on campus already having been eliminated in the past year.
“We can’t be precise,” Johnson said, “but we don’t have very many occupied positions that will be affected.”
Glick began the Town Hall by emphasizing several positives related to the University of late. On Friday and Saturday, for example, more than 1,800 undergraduate and advanced degrees were awarded at Commencement.
Parker said that as he sat on the platform during Saturday’s ceremony, Regent Michael Wixom asked the veteran College of Business professor how faculty morale was doing in the face of the past year.
“I said, ‘Considering that people have been talking in the press about us being overpaid, or that there was a possibility that the governor was willing to cut our budget by a third, and that the state instructional budget could’ve been cut by 50 percent, morale’s doing pretty good,’” Parker said, adding that he felt that the vast majority of people on campus have stepped up and have worked together for the continued success of the University.