Town Hall: Good news in spite of budget challenges

2/13/2009 - By: Brandon Stewart

A campus Town Hall discussion Thursday ranged from the governor’s proposed budget to news of the federal stimulus legislation to progress being made toward key indicators of success.

University of Nevada, Reno President Milton Glick told faculty, staff and students that the ultimate impact of the state budgeting process largely remains unknown, and he reminded the audience that communication with the public over the next several months will be essential to achieve the best budget outcome.“We are doing our best to carry the message but we need each of you and your parents, and your children, and your brothers and sisters and next-door neighbors…. you are the most effective spokesman,” he said. “And it can’t be done just by us — it has to be done by everyone who cares about the future of the state.”

As part of that effort, Glick participated in radio call-in shows on KUNR and KOH Friday. On Sunday, Feb. 22, OpenLine (6 p.m. on KNPB Channel 5) will feature Glick along with the presidents of Great Basin College, Truckee Meadows Community College and Western Nevada College. The community will have the opportunity to pose questions by phone or web chat.

While the Nevada governor’s proposed 2009-2010 budget includes a 36 percent cut to the Nevada System of Higher Education (which includes a 49.8 percent cut to the University’s core instructional budget), Glick reminded the Town Hall audience of about 170 (with an addition 170 online) gathered in the ballroom of the Joe Crowley Student Union that the budget is the first step in a process now in the hands of the Nevada State Legislature. Glick remains optimistic that Nevada’s elected officials will work together to find solutions that would avoid cuts at this level.

“I don’t think anybody wants us to have this happen,” Glick said. “All the people that spoke (at a legislative budget committee hearing earlier in the month) from both sides of the aisle said, ‘We cannot let this happen.’ And, this is a personal observation, I do not believe the governor wants to do this kind of damage to higher education.

“In the end we’re going to have a very painful budget – but I don’t believe it is this budget (proposed by the governor).”

Despite the economic and budgetary challenges, Glick said the University community can still be optimistic about real strides made toward University goals.

For example, Glick shared that enrollment this semester is up 600 full-time equivalent students from last spring. Though some of that increase might be attributed to a poor economy driving students to education, Glick is pleased that a significant portion of the increase is due to students taking more classes.

“We all know the secret to student success is for students to take a full load so that they are more likely to graduate,” he said.

“In spite of the tough challenges we’re having we’re making progress on those goals,” Glick said of the set of metrics to which he has committed the University.

Improvements worthy of praise include.

  • Graduate enrollment is growing after years of not growing
  • Diversity of undergraduates is higher than it’s ever been (20 percent non-white students)
  • First-year persistence grew 2 percent.
  • National Merit Scholars enrolled nearly doubled

Before Glick delved into the operating side of the budget, the president explained that the governor’s budget did propose funding for several building projects, including funds to finish the Center for Molecular Medicine and the Davidson Math and Science Center which is running six weeks ahead of schedule.

Regarding the University’s Fire Science Academy located in Carlin, Nev., Glick said an opportunity has arisen to help with the $39 million debt and alleviate the academy’s reliance on student fees. Students are currently paying $6.50 per-credit hour per-semester to support the academy debt and operating losses.

“I want to give credit where credit is due on this. The governor has put in his budget $8 million which was originally programmed toward a National Guard readiness center,” Glick said. “Instead, he said, ‘Let’s put it in Carlin on the Fire Science Academy site and pay (the University) $10 million dollars to buy that site.”

With cooperation from Nevada’s federal delegation and the support of the legislature, that $10 million would go toward the facility’s capital debt. That money would also help the University avoid the costs associated with shutting the facility down.

In addition, the industry stakeholders using the facility and Elko County city and county governments have agreed to provide $1 million in annual support, eliminating the facility’s operating debt. Eventually the National Guard would take over the facility.

When discussion turned to the governor’s proposed operating budget, Glick said he cannot think of a way to work with such a budget.

“Candidly, I’m pretty good at knowing how to manage limited and even diminishing resources,” he said. “And with the support of this community we have managed our budget reductions in a way that, while painful and damaging, have not changed the long-range trajectory of the institution.

“I’m not good enough to know how you make these kind of reductions,” he said. “I don’t believe you can make these kind of reductions and have the university this state needs — remembering that we’re already 50th in the nation in the likelihood of 19-year-old graduating from college.”

As legislative debate on the budget continues, Glick asked the audience to remember two things.

“No. 1, this isn’t personal,” he said. “We can debate this budget, but we shouldn’t debate why people do things. No.2, what’s important is not what happens to me or to you or to the University — it’s what happens to the state if we have this kind of budget.”

Before he finished his opening remarks, Glick praised the students for their help in the process.

“I think our students are behaving so maturely,” he said. “There was a rally down in Carson (City) the day the legislature opened. They were well behaved, their message was clear. Both the capitol guard and the legislators complimented them. They even cleaned up after themselves, I mean somebody’s mother taught them well.”

The rally also included the members of the marching band which Glick said would continue on into next year.

“I want to particularly thank Mayor (Bob) Cashell,” he said. “The marching band also stepped up to help us raise money and I thought they did a great job this year.”

Lastly, Glick addressed the federal stimulus package and how it might affect the state budgeting process.

“If you know what the stimulus package means you’re a better person than I am,” he joked.

The House stimulus package included $79 billion in state stabilization funds, some of which was intended to supplement education funding. The Senate bill cut that number in half to $39 billion. After a conference committee deal, the final number appears to be $54 billion, Glick said.

“We think, but nobody knows, that the requirement for the state to get back to ‘06 levels is still in there,” Glick said, referring to the stipulation that states must restore previous funding levels to be eligible to receive stimulus funds. “We also think, but don’t know, that there is a provision for the secretary of education to choose to waive that requirement.”

In the question and answer portion of the town hall, the president was asked whether the governor’s proposed cut to the University’s core budget includes the 6 percent salary reduction and reduced benefit levels. Glick responded that, according to budget officials, those reductions are part of the 49.7 percent cut.


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