The recent, unprecedented 12% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for state workers — including Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) employees — was one of the top issues for the University’s Faculty Senate this past year, outgoing chair Eric Marchand said.
Marchand, an associate professor in the College of Engineering, served as Faculty Senate chair in the 2022-2023 academic year, an experience he described as both a challenge and an opportunity to impact the University’s future. He is the third Engineering faculty member to take on that challenge: the others were Frederick C. Harris, the College’s current associate dean of Faculty and Academic Affairs, during the 2016-17 academic year; and David Sanders, now the chair of the Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering Department at Iowa State University, during the 2015-16 academic year.
“We’re a very complicated organization, with many overarching missions,” Marchand said of the University. “We all contribute to UNR’s mission in different ways and all faculty have a role to play in the trajectory of the University.”
While the COLA was an overriding issue in 2023, the Faculty Senate also is involved in many decisions that have substantial impact on University staff. Those include matters of academic policy, including how to deal with academic dishonesty; fiscal audits, including the budgeting and organization of online learning programs; and the faculty evaluation processes.
Faculty should have a voice in those matters, and the Faculty Senate is the mechanism in which they do.
“The concept of shared governance is a central tenant of the academy,” Marchand said, “and the biennial legislative budgeting process is a time when we should double down on engagement and participation.”
Longtime connection with the University
Marchand’s connection to the University of Nevada, Reno goes back to the 1990s: he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1994 and a master’s in 1996 before completing his Ph.D. in 2000 at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Now on the faculty in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Marchand’s research interests include optimizing processes for the treatment of water and wastewater, among other areas. Most recently, he has started a project with Chemical & Materials Engineering Associate Professor Sage Hiibel to establish the new Nevada Center for Water Resiliency.
“I am amazed at how many hats Dr. Marchand wears at the University and (how he) still manages to excel in everything he does,” Krishna Pagilla, chair of the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, said. “He is an amazing alum, professor and volunteer of the university. I am delighted to be his colleague. Dr. Marchand’s service as the faculty senate chair is greatly appreciated by all the faculty and me.”
Marchand got involved with the Faculty Senate by degrees, a strategy he suggests for those interested in getting involved with shared governance. He started out serving on Faculty Senate committees before taking on the roles of senator from the College of Engineering and, later, parliamentarian (the role that involves assisting the chair as that person conducts meetings). But the chair role, Marchand said: “it changed my day-to-day perspective on the complexity of the University.”
'The COLA benefits are fantastic’
A lot was riding on the 2023 Legislative Session (Nevada’s Legislature meets every other year), with Assembly Bill 522 proposing an unprecedented 12% COLA increase for state workers, after years of a lagging state worker pay.
Marchand and the Faculty Senate worked closely with Michael Flores, the University’s vice president for Governmental Relations and Community Engagement, to get in front of legislators to explain the University’s value to the state.
“We were there to tell the story and the University had an amazing presence at the state house,” Marchand said.
This Legislative session also was the first in which the University organized a “Day at the Legislature.” Coordinated by Flores’ team, the April 3 event included visits with legislators and an opportunity for participants to share their experiences in support of the University’s strategic goals for the 2023 session.
Those efforts had impact: on June 1, Gov. Joe Lombardo signed AB522 into law with the 12% COLA, and on June 30, the NSHE Board of Regents voted to set the COLA at 12%. (AB522 stated that the COLA could be up to 12% for NSHE employees.)
“The COLA benefits are fantastic and well-deserved for our professionals on campus,” Marchand said.
But, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. As President Brian Sandoval explained in a June 13 letter to University staff, the Legislature funded only a portion of the COLA, appropriating about 61% of the total cost of the COLA to the University. The University had to plan how to fund the remaining expense of the COLA, and now will have to grapple with how to fund a COLA of up to 11% in fiscal year 2025.
Marchand, who now takes on the Faculty Senate role of past chair, will continue to help shape those decisions. The road ahead is challenging: Marchand said that in his experience, advocating for faculty involves a lot of difficult conversations with NSHE, faculty and leadership.
“There’s pressure when different groups have different interests,” Marchand said. “There are plenty of nuances between academic and administrative faculty, but together, we can all be involved.
“Being able to collaborate is important,” Marchand continued. “I’m looking forward to working with leaders to find the best path forward.”