Town hall: opinions, ideas and 'thinking out loud'

5/7/2007 7:00:00 AM

President Milt Glick got right to the point Friday during his town hall meeting with the University's faculty.

"Since I'm human and not an elephant, nine months seem like an appropriate gestation period," he said as he began a presentation in Nightingale Concert Hall entitled, "Perceptions and Opportunities: Thinking Out Loud."

Glick said that since assuming the presidency at Nevada about nine months ago on Aug. 1, it was time to share his thoughts about the campus and its future, and to solicit feedback from the University's faculty and staff. The event was sponsored by the Faculty Senate.

"It's great to see you on Friday afternoon," Glick said to crowd, which numbered about 250. He smiled, and then added, "There are those who believe none of us are here on Friday afternoons."

Glick spent the first hour of the two-hour meeting sharing his thoughts on the keys to the institution's future. First and foremost, he said, "Increasing student success is critical to everything we do."

Glick also stressed the role a vital university can play in a community such as Reno, which is looking to diversify its economy.

"We have to become the economic anchor for this community," he said. "Not because it's good for us, but because it's good for the community. It's the right thing to do."

Glick reiterated his position on the current budget battle in Carson City, where legislators are asking the Nevada System of Higher Education to consider cuts due to a slowdown in state revenue as well as enrollments at universities and community colleges that have grown, but not enough to meet some projections. Some estimates have put the University's potential cuts at about $8 million.

"Because of where our enrollment is, not compared to last year but at what somebody projected, we end up minus-$8 million," Glick said, noting that Nevada's enrollment continues to grow, though not as robustly as it did during the first few years of the creation of the Millennium Scholarship. "But you can't cut $8 million from our budget in any rational way. If we were to eliminate every open position, and eliminate all TA's (teacher assistants) and part-time faculty, that would only be about $6 million.

"I am still optimistic that (the legislature) will not leave us with an $8 million problem. It could be more like $4 million."

Glick said he believes that the Nevada System's presidents are united in the feeling that, "Our top priority is not to put any of the universities in a position to do draconian things," he said. Glick said that Nevada's current budgetary quandary could be solved by enrolling or retaining 300 additional students, while adding 450 students would give the University an additional $3 million.

"The point is, going forward, we can solve this problem," said Glick, adding that he felt that the University often forces itself into the problem "by hiring people year by year."

He then quipped, "We've got to stop hiring people out of the bar."

To which one of the audience members quickly responded, "They hired me out of a bar."

Glick, recognizing the faculty member, smiled: "You got hired out of the bar? Which bar?"

Another moment of interesting give-and-take occurred as Glick introduced some of the peer groups he would like to see the University join or exceed. The group included several western land-grant institutions, such as Wyoming and Colorado State, as well as "the Pac 10 – No Cal."

The "No Cal" line in Glick's PowerPoint yielded laughter from the audience. Glick grinned and pointed to the crowd: "Thank you. I've got to have a straight man out there somewhere."

On a more serious note, Glick said choosing the correct peer group was important: "Why would you choose peers if they don't cause you to stretch?"

Glick also stressed what he called "A Culture of Completion." He said that the University's current four-year graduation rate of about 15 percent was far too low.

"Think about it," he said. "Only about one in seven students we recruit will get out in four years. This is the kind of thing that might convince a student to come here, but I can guarantee you it's something that won't convince parents. Given the quality of our faculty, and the quality of our students, I think we can do better."

Glick also addressed several other aspects of the student experience at Nevada. He said that the notion that Nevada is a "commuter campus" might be true, but ultimately, "My response is, ‘We don't care where they sleep. We want them to live on the campus.' I really believe that the campus experience for a student is one of the most liberating experiences you can ever have. A campus experience is living (through programming, events and social opportunities) on campus."

Glick then placed the laser pointer that Faculty Senate Chair Guy Hoelzer had presented him at the beginning of the talk, to his side. He climbed up on the edge of the Nightingale stage, and, at times sipping Diet Pepsi and listening, and at others speaking with seriousness or some levity, spent the next hour in a question-and-answer segment with the faculty and staff.

"Universities need departments to achieve their goals, and departments need universities to achieve their goals," he said. "The point is, real action on any college campus happens at the faculty and departmental level. We can think great thoughts here, but the action has to happen at the faculty, at the departmental level."

Judging by the comments and responses given by faculty, there is great potential for action.

Andrea Turman, a marketing specialist for the College of Extended Studies, wondered if the University was doing all it could to reach out to top high school students.

Glick, who has launched a campaign for the University to recruit the state's National Merit Scholars – and who had a notable track record at Arizona State on this front – said that the University would be making important inroads on that front.

"Any top student or valedictorian that doesn't come to Nevada is our loss," he said. He called on Vice President of Student Services Shannon Ellis, who agreed that her staff, though still "in its infancy" on the campaign to recruit high-achieving students, was working hard on that front. "We've approached it the way almost as a private institution would, for maybe the first time in our history," Ellis said, noting that more scholarship money has been made available to lure these students to Nevada. "We should be going after the best and brightest, absolutely."

Bruno Bauer, an associate professor in the Department of Physics, also said he had heard that the University's efforts to recruit outstanding students had lacked in past years, though he was pleased to hear that the University was doing more.

"We need you to carry the story and to help us with our students," Glick said. He turned contemplative for a moment, remembering a conversation he had earlier in the day with incoming ASUN President Sarah Ragsdale. Ragsdale, a graduate of Carson High School, said she was almost ho-hum in her decision to come to Nevada, though the experience has far exceeded her expectations.

"I just want to bottle Sarah, put her at Scolari's or Raley's ... when she talks about the University, you want to go that University," Glick said. "What a wonderful young woman, who does a great job of telling our story at every chance she gets. We need to become more than the university that's just down the block. If you get students like Sarah, it legitimizes your school for 20 other students."

Cindy Kiel, executive director of sponsored projects, asked Glick about space on campus, particularly for research.

"People always note that while our research has grown, our research space has not," Kiel said. "We say that we stack everything higher and deeper."

Glick, who is somewhat vertically challenged would have a difficult time staring Tom Cruise in the eye, smiled and fired Kiel a quick and cheeky solution: "We hire short faculty." The comment drew more laughter from the audience.

More seriously, Glick said the construction of the center for molecular medicine for the School of Medicine will help alleviate the problem. "It'll be the first building we've ever built for the Medical School for research. But you're exactly right, Cindy. We have a serious space problem, and it limits our ability to do serious research."

Later in the discussion, a very tall professor, Mark Nichols from the College of Business Administration, stood and addressed Glick.

"I was hired before the short faculty member policy was implemented," Nichols said, tongue sewed firmly in cheek. Nichols' more serious comment centered on California, and Nevada's ability to recruit students there.

"We need to start thinking bigger than just within our state," Nichols said.

"We ought to make the Cal State system easy pickings," Glick said. "I completely agree with you. It's part of breaking the syndrome of, ‘We're just the school down the street.'

"I think you're right on target, Mark ... in spite of being so tall."

Glick was pleased with the turnout on Friday, as well as the responses and questions that he heard.

"We cannot achieve our goals without people who are willing to have a say in where we're headed," he said.


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