Principles for Preserving the University in a Time of Unprecedented Budget Cuts

President Marc A. Johnson
April 22, 2011

Under the executive budget proposed by Governor Sandoval, the cumulative cut in state support of the University of Nevada, Reno will be 40% over FY09-13. No institution can handle cuts of that stunning scale without significant losses and long-term transformation. The university simply cannot afford all the teaching, research, and outreach functions it has historically supported. We will have to offer fewer programs, support less research, perhaps teach fewer students, and re-evaluate the place of athletics at the university.

In response to the unprecedented reduction of the base budget, the Faculty Senate Executive Board and Provost Marc Johnson agreed to form an advisory committee to work with the provost in devising principles and priorities to guide strategic preservation of the university. Members of the Senate were asked to suggest faculty to serve, and the provost formed the committee at the end of February.

The plan was for the committee to work through the spring semester to establish principles for guiding budget cuts that would occur following the legislative session. However, that timetable was truncated by the legislature's request for a full accounting of possible budget cuts by April 5 th. The Faculty Budget Advisory Committee met for the first time on March 7 th and submitted these recommendations on April 3 rd.

Together, the provost and the advisory committee have worked to articulate principles and priorities to guide the decision-making that must occur under severe fiscal constraints. There is no sound way to apply such principles in rank order or to devise an algorithm to apply with no subsequent judgment; strategic preservation requires difficult and complex decisions. This process will entail more than cutting academic programs, administrative units, and athletic programs. It will also require creative thinking about how best to sustain core strengths. To that end-and anticipating continued economic distress-the committee has focused on how to manage damage to the university so that it might be able to recover in the future.

The University of Nevada, Reno is a research institution with a complement of undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the liberal arts and sciences and professional programs that serve its historic land-grant mission. The university must strive to preserve as many of its strengths as possible in a time when fiscal realities require that it contract precipitously. To that end, we recommend the following principles and priorities, recognizing that the strategies necessary to implement them will be difficult.

Graduate the maximum number of well-prepared undergraduates possible

  • Preserve high quality, high demand undergraduate degree programs.
  • Prioritize strong undergraduate programs in departments with modest graduate programs over strong graduate programs in depts. with modest undergraduate programs
  • Preserve good but small programs in present or reorganized form if they provide instruction that is essential for high demand programs, general education, or accreditation.
  • Prioritize "connectedness" based on necessary degree and research programs.
  • Use a consistent core set of measures in strategic decision-making, including curricular review that occurs in the context of budgetary reductions.

Maintain an environment for strong research and strong graduate programs

  • Preserve high quality, high demand graduate programs.
  • Preserve strong research programs that also contribute to undergraduate and/or graduate teaching.
  • Preserve programs with strong records of external research funding (recognizing disciplinary differences).
  • Use a consistent core set of measures in strategic decision-making, including curricular review that occurs in the context of budgetary reductions.

Professional schools that are central to the teaching and research missions or economic development are a higher priority than those that are less central

  • Recognize that the State of Nevada cannot offer all the specialized professional programs it has in the past.
  • Preserve select professional degree programs.

Tenure-track faculty who support the full mission of teaching, research, and service are of greatest priority

  • Prioritize tenure and the employment of tenured faculty in order to sustain the research as well as teaching missions. As a general rule, tenure-track positions have priority over Rank 0 teaching positions.
  • Review the practice of using long-term non-tenure-track and administrative faculty positions in academic departments.
  • Review the practice of using A contracts for academic faculty not in administrative roles.
  • Make strategic use of temporary instructors to cover lower-division courses and as a bridge solution to meet demand for all but essential replacement hires.
  • Strategically offer retirement incentives if possible. If the university cannot afford buyouts, develop alternative strategies to encourage early and phase-in retirements.
  • Prioritize quality for the long term while devising stop-gap efficiencies for the short term.

Larger administrative units are preferable to smaller units to accomplish the university's teaching and research missions effectively and efficiently

  • Consolidate and reinvent college and school structures where possible in order to promote shared teaching and research and make best use of resources.
  • Start now to consider consolidation, reinvention, or elimination of departmental structures that may be necessary in the coming years (such as combining and downsizing departments and eliminating departmental structures in professional schools).

Use resources wisely

  • Require colleges and departments to use instructional resources effectively and collaboratively. Review class size. Reduce redundancy where not pedagogically necessary. Eliminate unnecessary sections and conflicts between courses.
  • Start now to rethink instruction in the disciplines, considering strategies to sustain quality undergraduate degree programs with fewer resources, to the degree possible.
  • Assess the costs and opportunities of employing evolving technologies as a means of offering efficient delivery or specialized courses.
  • Examine whether altering course and term scheduling practices could help to offset the adverse impact of reduced resources.

Academics must be the university's highest priority

  • Reduce athletic programs in order to preserve academic programs.
  • Conduct a full review of university assets to determine whether any unobligated assets should be reallocated or capital assets should be sold.

Obtaining diverse sources of revenue is increasingly desirable and necessary

  • Create a robust statewide and worldwide development plan-articulate a vision that will bring in philanthropic funds and increase collaboration with industry.
  • Find new revenue sources through resource development of all kinds: tuition/fee increases, fundraising, grant-writing, and profitable niche programs.
  • Create support for grants: researching grant/contract opportunities, maintaining a repository of data, and providing assistance for grant-writing.

Our obligation in working with the provost to recommend these principles and priorities has been to keep the long-term health of the university foremost. Our goal is that the University of Nevada, Reno survive these unprecedented, difficult times as a university that has 1) retained its teaching and research mission, 2) sustained its core strengths in the root disciplines, and 3) creatively and strategically reorganized itself to make best use of scant resources.

Faculty Budget Advisory Committee, 2011

  • Stacy Burton, Chair
  • Tom Cargill
  • William Follette
  • Jack Hayes
  • Jodi Herzik
  • Scott Mensing
  • Glenn Miller
  • Elissa Palmer
  • Eric Herzik, Faculty Senate Chair
  • David Ryfe, Faculty Senate Chair-Elect