Faculty Senate Chair David Zeh, along with several other faculty and student leaders, provided information and sought comment on a number of key campus issues Tuesday during a Faculty Forum held in the William Raggio Building.
The Forum, with about 50 faculty and staff members in attendance, included Zeh's presentation on the new Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) funding formula and its implications for the University of Nevada, Reno and the northern NSHE campuses.
Zeh said the Forum was held with the upcoming session of the Nevada State Legislature clearly in mind, against the backdrop of four years of historic institutional budget reductions mandated by the state.
"The educational model we've followed for more than a century ... that's really under threat," Zeh said, noting that the University faces an increasingly competitive marketplace for students, as well as pressure from course offerings and entire degree programs from online universities and what he termed "MOOC's" - or massive open online courses which are increasingly being used by tens of thousands individuals throughout the world. Zeh added that because of these threats, as well as four years of budget reductions, it was a time in the history of the University "where we can't just sit in our labs or offices ... we have to have a broader perspective."
To that end, Zeh said, Tuesday's Faculty Forum was an effort to better inform the campus of issues that could impact the institution.
Regarding the funding formula, Zeh noted that there were "good," "bad" and "ugly" aspects.
Among the pluses of the formula, Zeh said the NSHE campuses would be allowed to retain their fees and tuition. He noted, however, that the formula does not include national benchmarks such as six-year graduation rates, as well as a "performance pool' of funding that is essentially only a "carve out" of existing funding, "with no additional funds."
Zeh said the performance pool is still being considered, and that he and the Faculty Senate would continue to support the inclusion of six-year graduation rates in the formula.
"Six-year graduation rates aren't a perfect measure of success (of institutions), but I do think they are important (for the formula)," Zeh said. He added that, "We have tried to get (six-year graduation rates) included, but it has been a real uphill battle."
Zeh said the faculty's focus for the upcoming legislative will be on restoration of pay cuts, elimination of furloughs and reinstatement of merit.
One example of why the effort is important centered on faculty salaries. The University's salaries for faculty, relative to national averages, have dropped from 2008-2012, Zeh said. Full professor salaries are down almost 7 percent, associate professor salaries are down almost 9 percent, and assistant professor salaries are down almost 5 percent during this period, according to Zeh's presentation.
"The reality of the data is that these people can go other places," Zeh said of the salary drain and its potential to diminish faculty strength. "This is pretty significant."
Zeh said the Faculty Senate passed a resolution on Nov. 15, which reaffirmed the governing body's support of NSHE making restoration of pay, elimination of furloughs and reinstatement of merit "a top priority in budget negotiations with the 2013 Nevada Legislature."
In other Forum highlights:
David Sanders, a professor of engineering and chair of the Faculty Senate's Salary and Benefits Committee, shared models for distributing merit if and when merit is eventually reinstated. The models included "a fresh start" approach, an "independent of years" approach and a "weight placed on years of service and merit" approach. Of the three, Sanders said the "weight placed on years of service and merit" had the most promising potential. He said his committee will submit a plan and recommendations to Faculty Senate in January.
Orion Cuffe, president of the Graduate Student Association, told the group that a "Day of Education" featuring participation of students from all northern and southern NSHE institutions will be held on Feb. 25 in Carson City. Cuffe termed the effort an opportunity "to get students and anyone else interested involved in talking about education with our legislators." He said a similar effort during the 2011 legislative session was successful in drawing attention to the impact proposed budget cuts would have on students. "I do believe we changed some minds," he said of 2011's effort to engage legislative members.
David Ryfe, associate professor of journalism and past chair of the Faculty Senate presented an overview of the soon-to-be-released Commission On The Future of the University of Nevada report. Ryfe said the report would touch on where the University stands today relative to a cohort other universities in the region, and what are some of the University's strengths that could be leveraged to improve its standing both regionally and nationally. Among the strengths are: the University's place in Nevada as the state's first and for many years the only institution of higher learning; the University's standing as the most research-intensive institution of all NSHE campuses; the Medical School; a strong "Arts and Science core"; strong professional programs. "This combination of missions and units sets us apart," Ryfe said, adding that the University, if it is to "be the best UNR we can be," must invest resources primarily in initiatives that connect two or more of the institution's missions and, as well, must invest in initiatives that offer opportunities for faculty and students to collaborate across disciplines.