A Town Hall Address

President Marc A Johnson
February 7, 2013

"Beliefs and values are the footings on which we build answers to the questions, ‘Who matters?' and ‘What matters?'" - Business leader and thinker Max Depree

Keys to the future: You

The key to the future of the University of Nevada, Reno is the work that all of you do, and the institutional values that are so clearly a part of every person on this campus. You've made it known, through your actions and accomplishments, that on our campus, we value more than anything else the success of our faculty, staff and students. This is why you embody the common good that is our statewide mission. You share the fundamental values of this University with others. You give genuine effort. You make many sacrifices.

Thanks to this outstanding body of work, we are poised to develop a sustainable funding and growth framework. We can then leverage this framework ... re-invest strategically in what we do in order to enhance our core areas and align more effectively with the needs of Nevada. If we are to turn this corner in the coming months, our success will continue to depend on all of you and the important work all of you do. This needs to be our motivation for the future. Our future is up to us ... all of us.

We already have many positives working in our favor:

  • We're known as a place that has a great academic reputation;
  • We're known as an affordable place to get an education;
  • We've got a beautiful campus;
  • We're known as a place where the people are friendly and want to help others.

We've also done many things to reinforce our reputation as a quality institution where the success of our faculty, students and staff is paramount to everything we do:

  • Tier I
  • Record enrollment
  • Record retention
  • Record diversity
  • National Merit University
  • Faculty productivity at record levels
  • Dynamic and growing campus: Knowledge Center, JCSU, Living Learning, Student Achievement Center

We do world-impacting research and creativity. We offer solutions for the communities and businesses of Nevada. We have a true culture of student, faculty and staff success. All of this is through your work. Individually, you have all made a profound difference in the quality of this University, and how it is perceived in our community and in our state.

Just a few examples:

  • Chris Herald - reaching out for K-12 math training for 12 local high schools to better prepare our future students;
  • Graduate students under Kam Leang teaching, mentoring and communicating science and technology in our local schools;
  • Balloon Race Committee's involvement in a major community event, benefitting students through Balloon Race scholarships.

Against this backdrop of notable accomplishment, I need to recognize that we've taken some hard cuts. We're in the last days of implementing that final round of what were numerous cuts before them. I'm heartened, though, by my visits with our legislators and our governor. Our elected leaders have told me the state of Nevada can't afford to cut education anymore. We've been asked to submit a flat, stable budget. We have done so. The governor's "State of the State" address last month also included encouraging news. Of utmost importance, the Governor called for the reversal of the current pay cuts and for the number of furlough days to be cut in half. Full restoration of pay and the discontinuation of furlough days is the top legislative priority for the Nevada System of Higher Education and this University.

The proposed capital improvement budget also includes support for the construction planning and site preparation phase for our proposed Student Achievement Center. An additional investment of $1 million is proposed for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and would help offset a previously proposed budget reduction. A Knowledge Fund, directed by the Governor's Office of Economic Development working in collaboration with the NSHE institutions, is proposed to receive $10 million. These are all promising developments.

A theme you'll be hearing a lot of in the next few minutes is that we have a strong opportunity to move the University forward and grow on our own. Here's how we plan to do this.

"It's not me ... it's not one individual" - Ian Buckle, engineering professor, speaking about the collaborative nature of his world-renowned research.

Stretching the measure of the University and the value of its work through continued success

What are we to do with this promise? Our future lies in recruiting and attracting more students and increasing graduation and retention. This will help us avoid what nationally has been called "The Giant Squeeze."

The "squeeze" is:

  • Higher expectations and lower amount of state funding;
  • A general shift of the financial burden to students;
  • And yet we're still asked to provide quality and make it affordable.

There are three parts to our future:

1. The formula.

Let me explain: Higher weights in business, sciences, engineering, health sciences, where our most rapid growth is. This will give us more state funds. Keep our tuition and fees to determine our own destiny. This year we had $10.3 million more than FY 2011. We were allowed to spend our own money. We relieved some of the pressure many of you have been feeling on a one-time basis. Retention of tuition and fees means we can hire more staff and faculty to serve our students and expand our capacity in key areas such as scholarships and research. The formula allows us to do what we do best: Attract the best college-ready students. Growth is the foundation of the formula, and that's the future of much of our revenue numbers.
We can no longer be dependent on increases in state funding or federal earmarks. The formula will allow us a chance to guide and control our own destiny through self-generated growth.

2. Research

A robust and successful research agenda allows us to add infrastructure, personnel and capacity to our entire University. The earthquake engineering expansion is being paid for through a federally competitive infrastructure grant, for example. In the past few months, we've made research effectiveness a priority by adding positions in OPSA to help faculty gain access to more grants.

3. Capital campaign

The Capital campaign will help us fund chairs, support programs, increase scholarships, and fund facilities. All the departments and colleges and deans and vice presidents are working together to develop strategic objectives, which will be converted into gifting goals for our areas of growth for the future. We've hired a national capital campaign consultant to help us formulate the plan and begin training for a successful campaign. We are working to realize the potential that we have in all three areas just listed.

Fundamentally, though, student growth is our largest foundation for growth. This will require each and every one of us reaching for the highest levels of achievement. The student growth formula begins with the recruitment of prospective students and includes all of us from the time students step foot on our campus until they graduate in four years.

I realize we have already been doing much with less. We've been working to alleviate the stress points where we can. In December, the Commission on the Future of the University gave us an excellent document outlining what some of our greatest strengths, threats and opportunities are. The Commission urged: integrate our effort, blend and connect across our missions of learning, discovery and engagement. Collaborative, across-discipline approaches must become the order of the day. I agree with these principles. We must invest in our people and in initiatives that link and stretch our missions as an institution. Thanks to the 14 members of the Commission for the time, thought and effort that they put into their report; welcome continued productive discussions.

"We are hoping to be part of something that can be transformative for Northern Nevada" - College of Science Dean Jeff Thompson in the Reno Gazette-Journal, Jan. 11, 2013

Building a dynamic community both on campus and off

So here we are. Since 2007, our campus has undergone a dramatic transformation opening of new buildings and the strategic linking of infrastructure to student success This arc continues with the Student Achievement Center. The Student Achievement Center, endorsed by the governor and our board of regents, brings together all pertinent services needed for all of our students, of all ability levels and aspiration. Planning for the center has already begun. Concept and space allocation are to be finalized by June. Groundbreaking could happen soon thereafter. It will be fully completed by fall '16.

Also in the conceptual, planning or completion stages of several other projects that promise to continue our campus transformation:

  • Earthquake Engineering Lab expansion, scheduled for completion in September
  • Planning for new graduate student family housing
  • Renovation of Church Fine Arts and the Redfield Theater
  • Three new residence halls
  • Indoor practice field for athletics and for the community

In addition to our bricks and mortar, we're engaging our community in new ways. Heidi Gansert hired in October as special assistant to help expand our external relations in key areas such as economic development.

Her charge:

  • Develop partnerships and enhance our relationship within the business community;
  • Embed the University in key organizations such as EDAWN and higher education initiatives from the Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED).
  • Amplify the value of our key assets (Terawatt Facility, others).
  • Develop and manage proposals in Physics, Engineering and Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources to have a clear impact on the economic viability of northern Nevada and the state at large.

Heidi and several others have already played a key role in the Knowledge Fund initiative that was included in the governor's budget transmittal last month. The Knowledge Fund represents an important, strategic contribution to economic development and will help the University enhance research and innovation targeted toward GOED's strategic priorities. Karsten Heise, state technology commercialization manager, and Doug Erwin, vice president for entrepreneurial development for EDAWN, are now on our campus, furthering the connection.

There are other Important changes in leadership, which promise to add talent, perspective and experience in many of our efforts. These include:

  • A new executive vice president and provost in Kevin Carman, from LSU;
  • New football coach Brian Polian, from Texas A&M University;
  • AD hire to come this spring;
  • Separation of Graduate School leadership and Vice President for Research (VPR);
  • VPR search;
  • College of Education and College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources Dean searches, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension leadership.

"I work with amazing people. It's as simple as that" - Kristen Kabrin, SEC chair and administrative assistant in the Department of Political Science.

Section IV: The path forward: Great people, great opportunity

We now begin our first funding cycle where our budget has not been reduced significantly since 2007. We will be building a University from the "base up." We will be a University that will be deeper in key areas rather than broader. This will be a biennium where we grow through entrepreneurship and through our own wits, rather than waiting for an increase in state funding or federal earmarks

As we re-think and re-invest, it's important to remember that there has been one constant throughout all of the challenges: The quality of who we are. We have a really fine University. We're worked together and we've honored our 139-year heritage. We can be particularly proud of the great spirit, the great confidence, and the great energy that everyone has shown.

Our opportunity now is to keep moving forward, to keep pushing in the manner that has made our campus so strong in the face of many challenges. Now's the time when we can show our mettle and build on a lot of great work. Now's the time when we can show the community and the state that we are worth their attention and their investment. We can do this, because of our shared, defining values: commitment and creativity, support and trust, talent and the encouragement of talent, seriousness and a sense of good humor ... dedication to the legacy of service that is fundamental to our institution.

Thanks to your actions, these are the values that have become so deeply ingrained in our campus community. We have an exciting year ahead of us. Thank you for the wonderful work that you do.