NSights Blog

'We are in this exciting time ... together'

President's "State of the University" stresses research infrastructure, diversity, enrollment strategy

(Editor's note: Below is text from the prepared remarks of President Marc Johnson, delivered on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016, during his "State of the University" address in the Glick Ballrooms of the Joe Crowley Student Union.)

Distinguished guests ... and friends from the community ... colleagues and students.

Thank you all for joining me. 

Today we are gathered to talk about the state of the University of Nevada, Reno -- our University. 

I am pleased to report to you all that the state of our University is strong. 

The University is growing and deepening its impact in every dimension of our mission.

Today, I will discuss progress made toward our central "big" goals and challenges for the new academic year.

Our central big goals include:

First, respond to enrollment growth with quality, experiential learning and move toward a student-to-faculty ratio of peer median, 18:1.

Second, achieve highest impact research university measured by the Carnegie classification R-1.

Third, serve as a pillar of economic development in the New Nevada.

Significant progress has been made toward all three of these goals.


Let me start with the status of our enrollment growth. Our enrollment has grown by about 1,000 students each of the past two years. 

This was a bit too fast. 

This year, we have purposely slowed, but not stopped, our enrollment growth to reduce the student-to-faculty ratios.

This "slower growth" enrollment strategy has seen our fall enrollment increase by 450 students, to 21,353, a new record. 

In parallel with this strategy has been the addition of new faculty, about 60 additional positions this fall. 

By combining these two approaches, we should see a small reduction in student-to-faculty ratio with the intention to enhance both our learning experience and research productivity. 

From the fall of 2014 to the fall of 2017, we will have added 166 faculty positions on our way to the goal of adding 400 positions by fall 2021. 

Even though the new enrollment figure of 21,353 represents only a 2.2 percent increase in headcount, student Full Time Equivalents is up 3.7 percent, indicating that students are taking heavier course loads on their way to a four-year degree. 

In terms of diversity, the proportion of all students of color has gone up from 35 percent to 36 percent. Considering the proportion of Hispanic/Latino enrollment alone, this group has grown from 17 percent to 18.5 percent. 

Already, Patricia Richard, our Chief Diversity Officer, has a campus group preparing us for the path to becoming a Hispanic-Serving Institution. 

The student population remains at 70 percent Nevada residents. 

Freshman to sophomore retention remains at the high level of 81 percent, four-year graduation rate remains at 26 percent, but the six-year graduation rate fell to 54 percent. Fortunately, over the last five years, our graduation rate remains on a healthy upward trend.

Recruiting and retaining this multitude of students requires professional skill and passion for our mission. I wish to recognize the work of our Student Services units, led by Dr. Shannon Ellis, Vice President for Student Services. 

These units explicitly have opened the doors of the university to all communities of qualified students and provided the academic and social support to help all of our students reach their goal of a degree.  Please help me recognize the important work of our student services professionals.

Not only do we have MORE students, they are coming to us better prepared.

Education across our K-12 school system has profound implications.

I want to take this opportunity, as a citizen of Washoe County, to emphasize the need for continued investment in our school system.

WC-1, also known as the "Save Our Schools" initiative, makes a commitment to our future students.

I support making education a priority. I will be voting for WC-1.


Turning from student enrollment to research, the University is focused on achieving the highest Carnegie Research classification.

Research universities are vibrant generators of income flow into a region.

They attract a stable flow of faculty, students and industry.

They are generators of intellectual properties which serve as a catalyst for new industry.

They are a significant contributor to economic development and well-being. 

Recently, we contracted with Applied Analysis, a consulting firm in Las Vegas. 

By comparing the economic impacts of the University in 2015 with the expected investments that would align the University with aspirant R1-classified universities, the study estimates the following:

The University's generation of jobs will rise from 10,845 to 12,877 jobs;

That's an increase of more than 2,000 jobs;

An increase in total economic output from $1.1 billion to $1.4 billion;

That's an increase of $300 million in total output per year. 

These huge economic impacts do not count the benefits of the more than 4,000 graduates we produce each year.  These numbers do not account for the value of new and improved businesses which benefit from the results of research.  And they do not account for the value the public reaps from safer bridges, better health diagnostics, and other public benefits of research and education.

The goal of reaching Carnegie R1 remains one of our top priorities. I can provide several measures of progress toward this goal. 

The University has experienced accelerating growth in research expenditures from $87 million in FY13 to more than $94 million last year, almost a 9 percent growth in three years and nearly 5 percent just last year. 

Numbers of doctoral graduates are measured as part of the R1 criteria; growth in master's enrollment is up 3.7 percent over last year to 1,674, and growth in doctoral enrollment is up 5.5 percent over last year to 830. Graduate student enrollment growth comes in part from increased grant awards, adding more Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) lines, and raising the base annual graduate stipend from $14,000 to $17,000 over the last two years to be more competitive. 

We have far to go with graduate program development, which I will address later.

Additional faculty positions are critical to research growth. We are proud to have added 166 positions to our faculty roster from fall, 2014 to fall, 2017. 

We are committed to making 80 percent of our new faculty positions tenure-track. This will assure growth across the full range of University missions of teaching, research and engagement. 

Along with faculty growth, we have added GTA lines at 75 percent of the number of faculty positions and administrative support lines at 20 percent of the number of faculty positions.

We are considering raising the formula for a number of new GTA lines equal to the number of new faculty positions.

Our Vice President for Research and Innovation, Mridul Gautam, has been actively developing University infrastructure to support our research progress.

Dr. Ellen Purpus has been named to a new position as assistant vice president for enterprise and innovation.  She will oversee the development of enhanced enterprise and commercialization services on campus including technology-transfer functions, such as patents, licensing, agreements, startups, spin-offs and corporate relations.  Also reporting to Ellen are Nevada Industry Excellence (NVIE), and the Nevada Center for Applied Research (NCAR).

NVIE is a statewide Manufacturing Extension Partnership hosted by the University which helps Nevada companies by providing resources to improve processes, efficiencies and productivity.

NCAR is a stand-alone applied-research and technology center focused on making Nevada businesses internationally competitive by leveraging the laboratories and intellectual assets of the University. 

These new functions and leaders bring extensive experience at the nexus of discovery and commercialization to put the "Innovation" in Mridul Gautam's title of Vice President for Research and Innovation. 

Other elements have been put in place to encourage both research and innovation. 

Last December, the Board of Regents approved a proposal to add "entrepreneurship" to the list of accomplishments which can be considered for tenure. Currently, the Digital Measures individual evaluation measurement tool is being modified to allow entrepreneurship activity to count in annual and tenure evaluations. 

Frequently we mention Drs. Tom Kozel, David AuCoin, and Dean Burkin of the Medical School as individuals who have commercialized their intellectual properties and actually started Reno businesses based on their research. 

The University has a very encouraging royalty incentive policy for faculty who start businesses based on their research.  I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity for both personal and economic development contributions.

Positioning the University for further commercialization impact, the Nevada Research and Innovation Corporation (NVRIC) has been formed to be somewhat similar to research foundations at most of the R1 universities. 

NVRIC will expedite movement of University of Nevada, Reno research discoveries and intellectual property to the marketplace for commercialization of products and services that benefit the public.

Laying this groundwork, whether it is in the commercialization of new technologies, creating new innovation-based businesses, or cultivating a culture of entrepreneurship in the research arena requires creativity, diligence and vision. Please join me in applauding all of the individuals who are involved with this important effort.


A third big goal is the role we play in serving as a Catalyst for Economic Development.

A highlight of last year was the opening of the University of Nevada, Reno Innevation Center, Powered by Switch.

From January through August, 342 events took place at the Innevation Center. These events included community, University, and business groups along with economic development agencies. 

As I have traveled in Europe and Australia in the last few years, I have learned that this type of collaborative space is becoming an important element of the nexus between universities, governments and the entrepreneurial communities across the world. 

Had we not captured this opportunity now, our region would be behind in an important part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

Not only this center, but expanded relationships between the University and EDAWN, GOED, the City of Reno, and numerous businesses and agencies have placed the University as a vital catalyst for economic development.

Mike Kazmierski, President and CEO of EDAWN, wrote in the RGJ recently that the University of Nevada, Reno is THE engine of economic development in northern Nevada.

Students are very involved in community outreach as well. 

For the second straight year, our student-athletes were recognized by the Mountain West Conference for having contributed the most public service hours of any Mountain West school. 

Our student government has started a program called GivePulse, an online interface designed to connect students, faculty and staff at Nevada with nonprofit organizations in our community to engage in volunteerism and service learning. This contributes to experiential learning as students have a direct impact on their communities. This interface allows the University to connect students to needs in our community. It also allows faculty to connect their academic classroom to experiential learning. Our students expect to engage 3,000 individual volunteers by the end of fall 2016.

To all who have done such a tremendous job in building a stronger bridge with our community, I say thank you.

Please join me in applauding this good work.


With so much going on, and with so much growth defining our work, you are probably wondering, "Well, how can we handle all of this growth?"

I noted earlier that our student population is growing and that the University has responded by growing the numbers of faculty, staff, graduate student and support positions. 

But where do we put all of these people? 

Our Associate Vice President of Administration and Finance and Budget Director, Bruce Shively, along with the Institutional Research Office developed a capacity study several years ago. The study showed the physical capacity enhancements which would be needed to accommodate this growth. 

We have been following that plan. 

The study showed that our greatest needs are in office space and research laboratories. 

Provost Kevin Carman has initiated class scheduling plans to maximize the utilization of classroom and class laboratory spaces. This has prevented the necessity of building new classroom buildings for a while.

To accommodate student housing demand, we opened the graduate family housing facility two years ago, Peavine freshman residence hall in fall, 2015 and the Great Basin hall, mostly for freshmen, opens in fall, 2018 

In terms of office spaces, we emptied the Continuing Education Building when Extended Studies moved to the Redfield Campus and the National Council for Juvenile and Family Court Judges moved off campus. Marketing and Communications, the University of Nevada Press, Institutional Analysis, Scheduling, 365 Learning, and the Equal Opportunity/Title IX Office moved into that space. 

After the William N. Pennington Student Achievement Center opened in February, a number of offices moved to this new building and opened up space for additional offices to relocate.

Lincoln Hall was converted from a residence hall to office space for History, Sociology and Communications Studies. 

Thompson Hall, which reopens in March, is being renovated for Political Science,  English, Gender Race and Identity, Core Humanities, and the College of Liberal Arts Advising Center. 

The Savitt Library has been converted to office space for the Public Health portion of Community Health Sciences and Philosophy moved from Cain Hall to Jones Visitor Center. 

Palmer Engineering has been closed as it gets a complete renovation to increase the number and quality of offices and research labs. 

The E. L. Wiegand Fitness Center is moving along nicely. It will open early in 2017, providing 108,000 square feet of additional health and fitness facilities.

The Ansari Business Building has been updated with renovations, and the 15th Street entrance to campus has been redesigned and repaved.

Athletics has completely renovated Mackay Stadium with chair back seats, a new track surface, a new scoreboard and sound system and a stadium club which brings the stadium into the 21st century for fan experience just as Mackay Stadium celebrates its 50-year anniversary. Athletics also added a new six court outdoor tennis facility, which has been needed for more than a decade. As soon as the E. L. Wiegand Fitness Center opens, the basketball courts in Lombardi will be transitioned to Athletics. They will be renovated to create a basketball practice facility for women's and men's basketball.

I am especially proud of the attention given to the basic infrastructure of this aging campus. 

The University has implemented a plan to establish a central "chilling plant" comprised of three 550 ton chillers to provide a single chilled water loop to serve 28 buildings; hot water and electrical power distribution loops also are being updated. 

This basic infrastructure is a sound investment. It will serve the campus well with uninterrupted services for the next two or three decades.

There are three more future projects which are well along in the planning and funding phases.

First, the Act II Arts Building is a 38,000-square-foot facility including additional and improved practice and performance spaces for Music and Art; conceptual design and fund raising are nearly complete and this building could be open in summer, 2018. 

Construction designs have begun for an 87,000-square-foot Engineering Building and fund raising is well underway.

Finally, conceptual design has been done for a College of Business Building to be located in the Gateway area south of the campus and north of I-80. This project will move forward once the Engineering Building has been finished. 

Since 2011, the campus has experienced a total of $387 million in facility improvements. Just $23.8 million was in state funds. Student capital improvement fees, grants, donor gifts, and sales of unused properties have made the pace of construction move at the speed you have witnessed.

Although there are many units involved in this effort, I'd like to single out two in particular.

First, thanks to the leadership of Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations John Carothers and the work of his entire unit, we are actively engaged in a successful comprehensive campaign that is helping us realize many of these important needs.

Second, I wish to recognize the high level and the high quality performance of Facilities Services and the entire Administration and Finance unit, under the direction of Vice President Ron Zurek for creative planning, design, contracting, real estate, and financial services to make all of this happen.

Please join me in recognizing these many individuals.

Because of the totality of this effort, the University of Nevada, Reno is being recognized as a fast-paced contributor to economic diversification of Nevada and a top-quality place for learning and research.


As this presentation illustrates, we have an exciting future ahead of us. And, coupled with this excitement, will be challenges. The University will be working during the next year on a number of specific challenges.

Let me start with the upcoming legislative session. The Board of Regents has an aggressive proposal for higher education. The Regents' first priority is to obtain faculty salary enhancement equivalent to other state employees. We all are hoping this comes in the form of a merit raise.

Another top priority is to honor the higher education funding formula. The formula entails caseload growth, which results in additional funding at a fixed dollar amount for each additional weighted student credit hour completed. 

Our enrollment growth and high rate of successful course completions means that state fund revenue to the University should grow significantly.

Another priority is to support capacity enhancement for all of the NSHE institutions. Our university proposal focuses on faculty, staff and equipment infrastructure to support additional capacity for education and research in advanced manufacturing. This objective fits the Governor's Office of Economic Development's recognition that Nevada's growth, especially in northern Nevada, will be in knowledge-based industry which is identified broadly as "advanced manufacturing."

The University is especially focused on a capital improvement request for the state to finance half of the cost of a new building for the College of Engineering.  This project rose to the top of the Regents' priority list for new construction.

We completed a great amount of planning and design which normally would be supported by the state as a planning grant. The proposal is for the state to fund half and the University to fund half of the post-design project cost, about $41.5 million each. We already have had success with identification of institutional funds and fund raising to position the project well for the Governor's and legislature's consideration.

Since enrollment in the College of Engineering has been the largest of any college, research expenditures are second only to the Medical School, and the graduation of engineers is so critical for the workforce needs of the industries coming to Nevada, capacity expansion for education and research in engineering is critical.

Responding to greater diversity on campus is another important challenge.

Diversity will receive significant attention this year.

As noted earlier, the proportion of our students from ethnically diverse backgrounds continues to increase.

Over the past several months, the University's senior leadership has been actively engaged with our students and student leadership in ensuring that our campus remains a safe and welcoming place.

We've also had small group discussions with students in various categories of diversity to find out how we can make this a more comfortable place to work and study.

As a University community, are we sensitive to how people raised in black, Latino or Native American families perceive messages, instruction and identification?

Are we sensitive to the challenges hearing, sight, or physically impaired individuals have?

Are we sensitive to what it is like to be gay or transgender in a class or lab?

Are we sensitive to what it is like after several years deployed in a hostile combat environment to return to school where most of the students in class are younger and less experienced? 

Over the next months and years, voluntary learning opportunities will be made available to build understanding and appreciation for people from a wide range of backgrounds.

Already Safe-Zone Ally training has been available to help our students and colleagues develop a better understanding of how people in the LGBTQIA community experience college. A second level course is being constructed on this topic. During the fall, the course "Becoming Culturally Responsive Professionals," is being offered as an initial discussion in creating a welcoming academic environment. Our Vet Smart Training is available to help understand the unique challenges our veterans face.

While these trainings are strictly voluntary, I urge you to take advantage of these sessions to build an understanding of not only the diversity we have on this campus, but of the ways individuals in these diverse groups are affected by identity, assignments, comments, and how to assure inclusion of everyone in class, social and work settings.

To do all of our jobs most effectively, it is not enough to know our numbers about diversity, but to be very aware about how our recognition of identity, our language, our teaching formats, and our work environments can add to genuine, comfortable inclusion of everyone in the university community.

I'd like to recognize all who are individually and collectively involved in this focused effort to make us a more diverse and inclusive institution.

Please join me in acknowledging the many people involved.

Additional challenges will occupy effort during the coming year:

It is important that the University take more seriously the hiring of a more diverse faculty. As the proportion of our students who are of color increases, our faculty composition also must change to reflect our student population and to help us all build stronger relationships between students and faculty.

Another challenge is continued growth of contract and grant revenue. This is essential for progress toward a higher impact research portfolio. We will need continuous design, finance and construction of laboratory facility improvements.

Strategic growth of graduate education programs is essential as we grow faculty and move toward a higher research profile. Graduate recruitment will take study, financial commitments to stipends and professional recruiting, and marketing in key disciplines.

The Medical School will be implementing a transformation plan whereby the medical departments in southern Nevada will transition to the UNLV medical school while the UNR School of Medicine develops a full, four-year curriculum in Reno, creates additional graduate medical education opportunities in northern Nevada, generates a strong clinical research program and starts a new Physician's Assistant degree program.

I'd like to thank our colleagues in southern Nevada for being a part of our University. I wish you well at UNLV.

As we continue this transformation, our marketing effort will be important to let the nation and world know of the progress we are making. Marketing is essential to build knowledge of the reputation which reflects our true qualities. One such effort is the "Powered by Knowledge" campaign that was launched over the summer in an effort to raise awareness of the impact of our University. Our reputation will affect student and faculty recruiting and our U. S. News and World Report ranking in their "Best Colleges" edition.

Athletics is now in the fifth year of association with the Mountain West Conference. Athletic Director Doug Knuth and the entire athletic team have improved recruiting, facilities, staffs, and performance largely in a self-supporting way. Throughout this period, athletes have maintained strong academic and graduation performance to reflect pride on the University.

Finally, financial resources always are an issue in a fast-paced growth environment.  We would like state funding assistance for facilities, student caseload growth, and employee salaries.

But our growth cannot wait on the next state dollar.

We have to be entrepreneurial and generate most of our resource growth to match our needs. 

We have many examples of University operations growing self-generating revenue to sustain new and existing programs. 

Like a partnership with a private firm to offer on-line degrees with significant expected net revenues is starting with Social Work degrees and moving on to include the Master of Public Health degree.

The Medical School is developing a new financial model in collaboration with Renown Health to make the offering of medical services more self-sufficient. 

Much of the building and infrastructure improvements have been financed by sales of lesser used assets with funds redirected to high-value uses on campus. 

As a University, we must set high priority goals and figure out how to finance the projects and programs.

This is a time for our University to act like entrepreneurs to design valuable programs and apply good business plans for sustainability.


As I said in the beginning of this address, the State of the University ... is strong.

We are recognized as a University on the move.

We all are in this exciting time of growth and heightened impact together.

We all are contributors.

We genuinely are in this together.

Our reputations are interlinked.

Your professional output and recognition reflects well on the University. And, the collective improvement of the University's reputation reflects on you.

The State of the University is strong, because our productivity, our cohesion around our core values and missions, our cultures of student success and collaboration, and our attitudes of friendliness displayed by our people ... are strong.

Thank each of you and all of you for building this remarkable University.

University President Marc Johnson