Maximizing Momentum

2014 State of the University Address
President Marc A. Johnson
September 17, 2014

Distinguished guests and friends from the community ... colleagues and students ... thank you for joining me here today.

A year ago, we gathered on another fall afternoon to take stock of what we'd accomplished. We talked about charting a path into a period of growth in a highly competitive environment. Over the last year, our trajectory as a University has continued to arch upward, even accelerate. We've accomplished a great deal. There is a sense of energy and enthusiasm on our campus. Everywhere you turn, you see a culture of student success, world-improving research and creativity, and the type of vital engagement that enhances our communities and businesses.

You see an official headcount enrollment this fall of 19,934 students, our highest ever. This represents a 6.2 percent increase over last year. It translates into 16,240 FTE, a 9.5 percent increase, reflecting an ever-increasing number of credit hours taken per student. You see a first-year class of 3,283 - also a record. This is a 9.8 percent increase over 2013. Our 6-year graduation rate for the 2008 cohort climbed to 55 percent, another record in recent memory and keeps us on the path toward our goal of 60 percent. The freshman to sophomore retention rate rose to 82.2 percent, another new high, and well above the average of peer institutions.

In addition to our record enrollments, you see a welcoming campus ... an achieving campus. You see a freshman class that has the highest GPA and highest test scores of any freshman class ever admitted. It's also our most diverse first-year class, with more than 40 percent of underrepresented ethnic groups ... a result of the intentional effort to make sure all qualified students know they have a place in our university family. You see more than 300 National Merit and Presidential Scholars, showing intentional effort to make sure the best-prepared students know they can be challenged in our university family. Included in this group is a record incoming class of 101Presidential and 15 new National Merit Scholars.

You see student-centered facilities rising from construction sites - the William N. Pennington Student Achievement Center, our newly-renovated Redfield Proscenium Theater, our new 132-unit graduate and family housing at Ponderosa Village, and our new residence community, Peavine Hall, which will open next fall. You see talented faculty and staff colleagues devoted to our university missions and to building productive careers.

You see a campus that, perhaps at no other time in its history, is a model of community engagement. The Reno-Sparks-Washoe County region is in the midst of an historic re-tooling and economic revitalization. The region is redefining itself. The region is also re-discovering its indispensable partner in doing so: Our University. In July, The New York Times wrote an article entitled, "Reno Rolls the Dice on High-Tech." In it, the Times wrote that if Reno's strategy of high-tech-reinvention is to work, the path to success would have to lead, and I quote, "... just up the hill from Reno's casino strip: (to) the University of Nevada, Reno."

We all are building this road of success. We are all vested in this momentum. This momentum results from the energy, creativity and sense of teamwork by our faculty and staff colleagues, our students, and our many community partners. And how we plan on maximizing our momentum is what I will speak about today.

For more than five and a half years, our University has refused to quit. It hasn't been easy. Even with the potential of new revenue, the fact is, today we still are operating with less unrestricted annual revenue than in 2009 before the downturn started. We're still suffering from the loss of a number of colleagues, in a number of areas across the University. We're still dealing with the effects of salary reduction associated with state-mandated furloughs. So, interspersed with this optimism and sense of momentum are these realities. Yet we're now at a point where the shared sacrifice of the past several years has become an opportunity for our University to build on our institutional success and momentum.

We've taken our destiny into our own hands. We've concentrated on what we have rather than what we've lost. And you've approached your careers here with the attitude of the "cup half full" rather than the "cup half empty." All of us are working diligently to build careers and programs. We are collectively working to grow the reputation of this fine University. Your work serves as the foundation for major, sustainable growth ahead. But we are realistic. We no longer are counting on "more for less" ... that is not sustainable. We are counting on "more for more." We are planning for growth in each of the four major revenue streams available to universities: tuition and fees; state funding; contracts and grants; and philanthropy.

Let me explain the actions in each revenue source.

The first revenue stream is tuition and fees paid by students. These revenues are dependent on enrollment growth and level of fees. Enrollment growth is accelerating. Additionally, in June, the Board of Regents approved a 4 percent registration fee increase in each of four years starting in fall, 2015. I want to thank our students for the thorough way they conducted forums to consider the pros and cons of the increase, because they recognized the beneficial investment in their education.

The second revenue stream is state funds allocated to colleges and universities through the new formula, implemented for the first time in the current biennium. This is directly tied to the Board of Regents' budgetary agenda for the upcoming Nevada Legislature.

I won't touch on the entire agenda, but here are some highlights:

  1. For the next biennium, eliminate furloughs, add funds for classified salary step increases and longevity costs, and add a professional merit raise of 2.5 percent;
  2. Enhance funding through the formula by:
    1. Pay for the additional 35,000 weighted student credit hours generated in FY'14 over the FY'12 level at the current price, which set this biennium's formula revenue,
    2. Add $5 per weighted student credit hour to match the commitment made by students in their registration fee increase, under the principle of shared student and state responsibility for higher education, and
    3. Redistribute formula funds to reflect exclusion of F-grades for non-attendance.
  3. Support the Knowledge Fund in the amount of $10 million in the next biennium. The Knowledge fund has been instrumental in the development of our advanced manufacturing initiative related to unmanned autonomous systems.
  4. Revise the Guinn Millennium Scholarship to cover $80/credit hour for up to 15 credit hours rather than 12; this will support NSHE's initiative of graduation in four years.
  5. Expand public medical education to include increased support for residencies and fellowships in UNSOM, expansion of clinical training in Las Vegas and Reno for UNSOM, and preliminary activities to begin a UNLV school of medicine.

That's an ambitious NSHE legislative agenda. Our legislative affairs team will work to keep all of you in the loop regarding its success. Now, back to our third revenue stream for our success, which is grant and contract income. This is a key to building research capacity, and to recruiting and retaining faculty and graduate students. There is good news on this front, as well. During the past year, the university faculty generated nearly $90 million in externally funded research expenditures and service grants. This was a figure attained by a research faculty that didn't benefit from federal stimulus monies or earmarks. Even without such benefit, this figure is clearly on the rise.

The fourth revenue stream is philanthropic giving, which is vital to providing a margin of excellence to University offerings. This year, we've reached a record amount in annual philanthropy - in excess of $54 million. This philanthropic effort has helped us continue to grow our campus' physical infrastructure. Thanks to the donations from local foundations, alumni, and friends in the community and throughout the state, we've been able to finance and realize the construction plans for new student-centered buildings such as the William N. Pennington Student Achievement Center, which will open in January, 2016, and the E. L. Wiegand Fitness Center, which is now under full design with construction scheduled to begin in summer 2015 with a planned opening of January, 2017. Our students also supported an additional fee to make the E. L. Wiegand Fitness Center possible, because this building and its many health, fitness and educational offerings will help improve the student experience. Our donors have extended University and grant funds to cover the match for the Earthquake Structures Laboratory and renovation of the Redfield Proscenium Theater and the related new front entrance and gallery in Church Fine Arts.

Our donors have also invested in endowments that have included endowed professorships. Recent examples include endowed chairs or professorships in environmental science, medicine, entrepreneurship, and the sciences. Soon we will be shifting into active comprehensive campaign mode. And the more than $54 million raised this year bodes well for the campaign's success.

Even with these active revenue enhancement plans, we still are in an austere condition. But we have forged a feasible and attainable path for our future. Though most of the unrestricted revenues will not appear until fall, 2015, we have the mechanisms in place for a very exciting future for you, and for our University.

Let's now take a look at the past year of success and achievement which has built momentum that can carry forward in the future. I'll start with appreciation for the collaborative work with our Faculty Senate. Shared governance has been important in guiding policies for our institution. I'll just use two examples. Over the past two years, the administration has worked closely with the Faculty Senate regarding the merit pay issue on our campus. Last spring, we adopted the Faculty Senate's Salary and Benefits recommendation on merit pay to recognize faculty merit in the years for which there were no merit raises. I wish to thank all of the people who were involved in that collaborative process, to find a fair way to address a very difficult issue. This is just the first of many collaborative steps to help our compensation picture. In 2015-2016, we will engage in a comprehensive salary review. The review will define and suggest strategies in dealing with problems such as salary compression and equity by gender and underrepresented faculty groups. The study will be completed prior to salary distribution in July, 2017. The second example of shared governance is the long process of reviewing and adopting the Silver Plan for the new, modernized core curriculum. I want to thank the Faculty Senate for managing the decision process and the faculty who served on the committee to assess and construct the new core.

As I mentioned earlier, we are close to crossing the 20,000-student threshold in our enrollment. Over the past year, our students have compiled a compelling record of achievement in student competitions held throughout the nation. This has included our national championship winning teams in concrete canoe and debate, as well as our emerging strength in integrative neurosciences with a win in the "Illusion of the Year" national contest. We've also had numerous student teams excel on the regional level. These accomplishments point to the remarkable opportunities for engaged learning that is so much of the fabric of who we are.

In the past year, the work of faculty also has been remarkable. Recently, Kevin Carman and I hosted a luncheon for faculty returning from their sabbaticals. Most took a full year away from campus to all corners of the earth for professional experiences which have great career potential. I wish I had time to speak to all of the faculty achievements of 2014. I've chosen to give you some headlines just for a flavor of the great work our faculty is doing:

  • "Music professor awarded three-year residency with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center";
  • "College of Education Professor named to National Reading Hall of Fame";
  • "E-Braille researcher gets prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award";
  • "Ebola expert to create Nevada disease forecast center";
  • "Geological Sciences and Engineering Professor wins international 2014 Young Scientist Award from European Geosciences Union";
  • "Board of Regents awards English Professor 2014 Academic Advisor Award."

Please join me in applauding not just the headlines, but our entire faculty and staff colleagues for their collective effort.

We are also experiencing promising gains made in the area of engagement. One example has been the collaborative work guiding our Strategic and Master Plans. These plans, led by Provost Carman, have been comprehensive and historic in scope. They've opened doors we weren't sure would ever open. The University has been in active dialogue and discussion with the City of Reno, the Regional Transportation Commission, as well as individuals from our community in developing a Master Plan that will provide a physical connection with our community. We are actively pursuing a strategy that will extend our University footprint and develop properties not just a single block south of our campus, but several blocks south of campus. There is still time for you to participate in this process, which will be completed in early November.

It's been a memorable year for our University and our people. And during the past year, new student fee revenues resulting from enrollment growth and differential fees have been focused on improving university productivity. We've made gains in
re-establishing faculty and infrastructural strength in our key areas. We've hired 37 net new tenure-track academic faculty in the past year. We've augmented the number of Graduate Teaching Assistantships and increased GTA salaries to remain nationally competitive in this arena. We've established administrative faculty positions and classified positions in areas of need. This expansion has helped us meet the needs of a campus that is growing and will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

Now, let me turn to new and continuing initiatives. The University has four big goals:

  1. Prepare to serve 22,000 students in projected enrollment by 2021, though this could happen by 2017 at the current rate of growth;
  2. Reduce our student to faculty ratio to 18-1. This will enhance student contact with faculty and enrich their learning experience; it will allow us to restore the balance between teaching and research common to our peers that is so beneficial to our faculty and to our University's productivity and reputation;
  3. Attain the Carnegie classification of "Research University/Very High";
  4. Serve as a key economic driver for the diversification of the regional economy.
    The Capacity Study performed by Budget Director Bruce Shively and Institutional Research revealed that it will take 272 new faculty positions to reach the first two goals and 250 research faculty to reach the third. So, over the next seven years we'll be hiring between 250 and 272 additional tenure-track faculty, with more instructors to address our teaching needs, and a balanced set of support personnel to maintain productivity, efficiency and effectiveness. We believe this is financially feasible with the revenue enhancement plans mentioned earlier.

I'd like to call out a couple of these points for a moment. In terms of faculty hires, tenure-track additions seem to offer the clearest path for us to accomplish our teaching mission while at the same time building capacity in research and scholarship. Tenure-track hires contribute to research in many ways, including productive research agendas, the acquisition of grants, and helping us graduate more doctoral students. The student to faculty ratio of 18 to 1 is also an important figure. Achieving an 18 to 1 student-to-faculty ratio in the next few years will mean that we're reducing the number of courses taught per faculty member. This ties directly into my final point that we are actively engaged in restoring the balance between teaching and research for our faculty which is common at peer institutions. This will represent a shifting of responsibilities so that proportionately, our faculty can achieve professional balance. This is a serious issue, and we are taking important steps to remedy it.

Another key driver in this equation is what can happen when an institution makes Research University/Very High a priority. This effort will align us with other major regional universities such as the Universities of Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Oregon. As we make the push for this classification, we will be building our capacity in a number of vital areas, including the quality and number of our faculty, as well as our number of grant-based employees and graduate students. Additionally, ascension to Research University/Very High will cement our position as a pillar for economic development and innovation in the region and the state.

We have several other important University-wide initiatives I would like to address briefly. These include:

Future facilities that speak to enhancing the student, faculty and staff experience on campus: If we are to grow to serve 22,000 students, take our student to faculty ratio to 18 to 1, and achieve Carnegie Research University/Very High status, we must grow our space for research and for our colleagues. Space remains a top priority for the University. Our full design schedule includes projects to address these pressures for which designers currently are under contract. These include:

  • Construction of a new Engineering Building
  • Renovation of Scrugham and Palmer Engineering Buildings
  • Conversion of former teaching labs in Physics and Chemistry to research labs
  • Construction of a new Fine Arts Building, and
  • Renovation of spaces being re-purposed for laboratory and office uses, like Thompson Hall.

There is another piece of this effort that I need to share. Tomorrow, I will be meeting with leaders from our preservation community. We will discuss how to preserve the historic University District valued by our community. Our discussion will include how to partner in preserving historic Lincoln and Manzanita Halls, while converting them from residence halls to other university uses.

The second University-wide initiative is the opening of the University Innovation Center. Our purchase of the University Innovation Center at 450 Sinclair Street has provided a physical home for our Unmanned Autonomous Systems, or UAS, program, which now includes an interdisciplinary UAS minor in Engineering. The Innovation Center will also be home to outreach, maker space, and partnerships that will serve as a gateway with our community for innovation and commercialization.

Another key initiative is our commitment to diversity in our student body, and our faculty and staff: We have officially become an emerging Hispanic Serving Institution, meaning this university has 15 percent of students of Latino or Hispanic origin. This is a key milestone in our evolution as a high-quality public institution which takes pride in meeting the needs of all groups, from all backgrounds.

There is one other important initiative. Our medical school will expand medical education through innovative relationships with Renown Health and St. Mary's Hospital in Reno and Mountain View Hospital in Las Vegas. These agreements will allow for expansion of clinical teaching in Reno and expansion of graduate medical education volume and quality in both Reno and Las Vegas, so essential to achieve the objective of producing doctors who will practice in Nevada.

In conclusion, this is an exciting moment for our University ... a time that needs your active participation, your engagement, and your talent. Recently, a couple of our professors wrote on their web pages what it meant to be on our campus. One professor wrote that being here was the culmination of a decade's worth of hard work. Another wrote: "This is a dream come true that, like most wonderful things in my life, came about serendipitously." The people who come here to study and to work should feel that the work we do is life-affirming ... and life-changing. If you, and everyone here today, contributes to the reputation of this University, I can guarantee you that your relationship with our University instantly becomes reciprocal. The work that you do will lift our reputation, and that, in turn, will help lift your reputation, as well.

All of the things I've mentioned here today won't happen overnight. This is a process - in some cases a years-long process. Our institution, ultimately, is a community that is no greater than the sum of its human parts. And our people, as I tell everyone I ever come into contact with, are an amazing sum. We have shouldered a horrible economic event with dignity and momentum. We now are growing rapidly and now we are poised to make a profound difference in the life of our campus. Now we are in a place where growth will be matched with resources. It is our time to chart the path of a leading public research university.

If you would like to enter into conversation on the points presented today, feel free to email me or we certainly would enjoy hearing your insight and feedback at a future campus conversation event.
Have a great fall semester ... and have a rewarding academic year filled with professional success, personal enrichment and satisfaction. Thank you all, for all you do.