The Governor's request for budget reductions by the eight Nevada System of Higher Education institutions was a primary topic of discussion at the Nevada Board of Regents meeting today in Las Vegas. At the meeting, NSHE Chancellor Jim Rogers shared a letter sent to the Gov. Jim Gibbons today, which included accompanying information provided by the University of Nevada, Reno and UNLV.
The information, developed by University administration, was provided to quantify the scope and impact of the requested eight percent budget reduction. "It is not a plan," said Milt Glick, University President. "Rather, it is a description and background information to demonstrate the magnitude of the budget cut request."
"Above all else, throughout this process our top priority will be to protect the quality of our academic programming and research enterprise. Student success and our teaching and research mission remain our foremost objectives," Glick said.
Glick reiterated today that an actual plan, should it be necessary, would incorporate input from the campus community. At a University Town Hall meeting on Monday, Glick announced that Faculty Senate leaders will "sit with us to think through this and how we minimize the harm to the institution." Faculty Senate Chair Steve Rock, professor of educational specialties, and Faculty Senate Chair Elect Bill Follette, associate professor of psychology, will be part of the discussion, as will deans and vice presidents.
At the Town Hall, Glick gave a detailed explanation of the short-term budget challenge. He said that reports of the higher education system receiving $165 million in "new money" in the budget unduly simplifies a complex situation. All but about $3 million of the "new money" has already been designated by the Nevada State Legislature, mandated for the institution's needs in areas such as COLA, merit raises, fringe benefits and costs associated with opening new buildings. As such, these funds are not discretionary.
"It is reported that NSHE received $165 million in new funds for operating budgets, and that all we are asking is you give back $64 million,'" Glick said. "It's important that we all understand this problem. They did give NSHE an increase of $165 million; unfortunately, it isn't green (discretionary) money and they're asking for NSHE to give back green money. ... The point is, we cannot say we'll reduce the raises or we won't be opening this building. To do that, we'd be in violation of the law.
"The answer is that NSHE does not have $60 million in undesignated new money."
Glick said the University's flexibility in dealing with budget cuts is further impaired by the fact that the University began the fiscal year with a shortfall of up to $6 million due to lower-than-projected enrollment in fiscal year 2007 and tuition collection last year, as well as a long-term structural deficit. Glick noted that, working with the deans and vice presidents, significant progress had been made toward this existing $6 million shortfall.
However, that shortfall coupled with the potential additional cuts creates a dire scenario. "We started with a $6 million problem, and now an eight percent cut would mean $16 million this year, and another $16 million cut next year. That's $32 million over the biennium," Glick said.
Suspended open searches, suspended equipment purchases, targeted operating budget reductions, reduction or elimination of student wages, and reduction or elimination of graduate student assistants for statewide programs are some of the examples noted in the letter to the Governor.
"These examples were provided to convey the magnitude of these cuts," said Glick. "However, these are examples and only examples. No decisions have been made. As always we will set a high priority on protecting the quality of our academic programs."
Monday, the Governor will meet with the Chancellor and Regent Chairman Mike Wixom to discuss what Rogers terms the "devastating effects" of an eight percent budget cut. Rogers will urge the Governor to consider the potential to utilize the state's "rainy day" fund, delay or suspend some capital appropriations, seek other revenue sources and allow the universities to retain a greater portion of tuition and fees revenue.
Glick is hopeful that alternatives may emerge to mitigate the short-term budget challenge. "But, how we handle the short-term challenges will have a lot do with how optimistic we can be about the long-term," he said.