Purpose, Planning and Performance: A Mid-Course Report

State of the University Address
President Marc A. Johnson
September 26, 2017

The long recession of 2009-2013 gripped this campus harshly. It trimmed and restructured us, but it awakened us to the realities of Nevada's economic sensitivities and the need to take responsibility for our own future.

We came out of the recession with a greater sense of cooperation and cohesion, resulting in a greater entrepreneurial spirit and momentum reflecting resolve to be a top-ranked university, to match the talents of our remaining professional employees and to serve an expectant group of well-prepared students who chose the University of Nevada, Reno because of our promise to offer an educational experience worthy of their preparation.

Your energy and creativity have resulted in continuous growth and maturity of this institution.

Thus, I can report to you and our public that the state of the University of Nevada, Reno is strong.

Based on this momentum and energy, we’ve grown and matured in every dimension. We are following a strategic plan which is aggressive in each dimension with outcomes which can be summarized in the three "big goals" first described in 2013:

  1. Respond to enrollment growth with quality, experiential learning and move toward a student-to-faculty ratio of peer median, 18:1;
  2. Develop a high-impact research university measured by the Carnegie classification R-1;
  3. Serve as a pillar of economic development in the New Nevada.

Last spring the Chancellor and Board of Regents performed a periodic review of me as president. One of the concerns the review team discovered was that while employees of the University generally appreciate the direction of the University encapsulated in these three goals and the objectives to achieve them, there is lingering uncertainty about how we can possibly achieve these goals on an aggressive time line and whether there will be sufficient resources to succeed.

My objective in this address is to provide a mid-point progress report on actions being taken to achieve these goals and how we are paying for these actions.

I'll start with the first big goal of responding to enrollment growth with quality, experiential learning and moving toward a student-to-faculty ratio of 18:1.

Why is this important?

First, Nevada's population is growing and as a state university we have a responsibility to serve well all who qualify.

Second, the sophistication of traditional industries and economic diversification of Nevada demands a rapidly increasing number of professionally educated individuals in all fields. People in nearby states are finding educational and employment opportunity in Nevada because of this growth in knowledge-based industry.

Third, a lower student-to-faculty ratio provides more opportunities for student-faculty interaction, the cornerstone of deep learning.

Fourth, a lower student-to-faculty ratio permits a re-balancing of faculty workload between learning and scholarship activity reflective of peer universities with the Carnegie R-1 classification. While many of you are not yet feeling this advantage, re-balancing will occur after faculty growth goals are achieved and new faculty assume their full teaching responsibilities.

The first part of the student-to-faculty ratio is the number of students. Our enrollment has been climbing steadily over the years with an unruly growth spurt in the falls of 2014 and 2015 and more controlled growth the last two years. The current census headcount number is 21,657.

Chancellor Emeritus Dan Klaich once asked me if we were lowering standards to attract more students. Of course we wouldn't think of that. Actually, the quality of preparation of our students continues to improve, with higher average freshman ACT scores, higher average high school GPAs, increasing numbers of National Merit Finalists, National Hispanic Scholars, and Presidential Scholars, and diminishing special admissions.

Reflecting our values of diversity and inclusion and our heritage as a land-grant university providing college education to the working classes, the University of Nevada, Reno remains an access university. The emphasis on access and inclusion has resulted in growing ethnic diversity in our student body with 37% of our students as students of color. We support, among several different student populations, low-income and first-generation students to build confidence in their ability to attain a degree through the Dean’s Future Scholars, Upward Bound, and Gear Up programs.

Our colleges provide many summer enrichment camps for middle and high school youth to acquaint them with the university experience. Financial aid packages to the tune of $150 million in scholarships and loans make college affordable.

Once the students arrive, we offer a wonderful, challenging, 24/7 college experience which provides many options for experiential classroom learning, civic engagement, service learning, undergraduate research, study abroad, and discovery labs like @One and The De la Mare Library.

Nevada FIT, which Provost Carman brought to us recently, reached 1,450 participants this fall which prepared them for their first semester of class. Residence Life and student governments focus on engaging students in social, fitness and leadership activity.

We have intentionally built the William N. Pennington Student Achievement Center to gather services designed for graduation success and the E. L. Wiegand Fitness Center to encourage physical fitness and emotional release during the college years. Adding these facilities to the opportunities for social and leadership growth in the Joe Crowley Student Union and intellectual growth in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center and Davidson Math and Science Building creates an excellent set of facilities in service to students.

The planning of these services and facilities is intentional to provide the type of university environment for an excellent and successful university experience. The result is a strong freshman-to-sophomore retention rate and strong graduation rates. The large increase in the four-year graduation rate suggests that the six-year rate will rise soon. The total number of degrees awarded is also increasing, to nearly 4,400 last year.

The second part of the student-to-faculty ratio is the number of faculty.

When we set our goals for student-to-faculty ratio and research growth to R-1 back in 2013, we used the Universities of Utah and New Mexico as examples and projected that we would need to increase faculty size by 400 positions with at least 300 on tenure track.

Creating faculty positions in a balanced way requires funds for salaries, startup funds, graduate teaching assistant positions, and administrative assistant positions. Also, enrollment growth requires additional academic advisors, librarians, teaching and learning technologists, disability resource center specialists, financial aid advisors, cashiers, police and more.

This requires a lot of revenue growth … with state funds, student fee funds, contracts and grants with indirect cost recovery, and auxiliary enterprises each generating roughly a quarter of our revenue.

So the University has available about half of our revenue in state, fee and gift funds which can be used for operations of our basic functions. State funds grow through the state funding formula with increases in weighted student credit hours finished. We are entering year three of a registration fee increase of 4% per year for four years. Increased enrollment and increased fees have resulted in significant revenue growth, which we have used to support faculty and other employee position growth.

Since 2014 we have added 217 faculty positions, 80% tenure track, 162 GTA positions, and 43 administrative assistant positions, plus many other employee positions to support enrollment growth.

Faculty positions have been distributed through two competitive processes, both of which have relied on proposals coming from departments through deans for either individual positions to address teaching demand or clusters of positions designed to create critical mass faculty units to build national impact in a few areas of research and graduated education. Every college has received some positions in these processes.

By increasing faculty positions at a greater rate than enrollment growth, we have succeeded in lowering the student-to-faculty ratio from 22:1 in 2014 to 20:1 in fall, 2017.

We are halfway to our goal.

But where are we putting all of these people and what is the quality of their working environment? And how are we paying for new spaces?

In terms of spaces, you have been inconvenienced by lots of construction activity in the last few years. It all is intentional to address the quality of offerings for students and the needs of space for growth.

We are playing a game of tipping the dominoes and Stacy Burton is organizing the dominoes and Facilities Services, Purchasing, and Administration and Finance are producing the spaces through construction and renovation. In the last four years, we have added 181 faculty offices and 15,000 square feet of research and creative spaces with new construction and renovations, and future buildings will add even more.

Here is how this exercise in dominoes is playing out:

The addition of the William N. Pennington Student Achievement Center emptied Thompson Hall, which has been renovated for several Liberal Arts units. This opened space in Mack Social Science.

The addition of the E. L. Wiegand Fitness Center has provided opportunities in Lombardi Hall for dance, Community Health Sciences, and re-allocation of the basketball courts for a women's and men's basketball practice facility.

Palmer Engineering is the third building to be renovated in a year, which is part of our Historic District on the National Register. The renovation is one step toward improving engineering facilities with an increase of 10 office spaces and 14 well-equipped experimental laboratories with great quality enhancement.

The Continuing Education Building on the west side of Virginia Street now houses administrative units, with academic units remaining on the core area of campus.

Student residences have been augmented with the opening of Peavine Hall with 350 beds in fall, 2016. Great Basin Hall will open in fall, 2018 adding 400 beds to replace 147 beds when White Pine Hall came down. Manzanita Hall will be returned to residential service with 100 beds in fall, 2019 after significant seismic renovation is completed. Careful financial analysis has shown that these projects will be self-financing based on student rents paid. This allowed us to close Lincoln Hall as a residence hall and convert it into an academic office building.

This brings us to our new academic buildings. Currently, a new 42,000-square-foot University Arts Building is under construction between Church Fine Arts and Mack Social Science. This building will provide a more intimate, 300-seat recital hall, more office studios and much needed practice rooms for Music and a larger art museum and a laboratory for modern exploratory art for the Art Department, all with modern acoustics and environmental controls.

The Arts Building will open in fall, 2018.

In June, Governor Brian Sandoval came to campus to sign the State’s Capital Improvement Appropriation Bill. This bill contained a commitment of $41.5 million from the state to match $23 million in donor gifts and $23 million in student capital improvement fees to construct a four-story, 87,000-square-foot building for the College of Engineering, greatly expanding and modernizing the office, classroom, and laboratory spaces for the College, which has been growing rapidly in the last few years.

The William N. Pennington Engineering Building will open in fall, 2020.

The next two new academic buildings have been identified as a College of Business Building and a Life Sciences Building to be located in the Gateway Area south of 9th Street. We are working on securing building pads for these buildings and a financing strategy for these expansions.

The University has done a lot to grow office facilities for faculty, employee, and student growth, but we are aware that quality laboratory spaces remain a challenge and we are working on design and financing plans for this issue.

I can’t discuss facility expansion without congratulating the Facilities Service Department for implementing multi-year plans to replace basic infrastructure across the campus, including cold water, hot water, electric and gas distribution lines, which will set the University up for continuous, uninterrupted services for the next 50 years. This campus is aging, but that doesn’t mean the basic services can’t remain functional with modern technologies.

So how are we paying for all of this infrastructure development?

First, I want to recognize the tremendous support of our donors for the gifts they have made to our building projects. Frankly, these new building projects would not be happening without their faith and support for the university. In fact, in terms of total giving, the UNR Foundation has had three of its best years ever recently in terms of total giving to the University.

Second, I want to recognize that students pay $16 per credit hour in their registration fees for capital improvements; growth in enrollment directly impacts the ability to fund additional capital projects by providing a flow of funds to support long-term debt instruments.

Third, I want to recognize that faculty add to facilities improvements, like the NIST grant that funded 80% of the new Earthquake Engineering Laboratory and grant funds that provide indirect cost recovery, a portion of which goes into laboratory renovations.

Fourth, I want to recognize various units within Administration and Finance for identifying property assets which can be sold to provide funds for much more productive uses and debt refinancing opportunities to make our money go farther.

Fifth, I want to recognize Student Housing and Dining and others in Student Service units for envisioning ways to grow and finance additional student housing capacity to respond to enrollment growth.

All of the construction which has gone into this campus is intentional, well-planned, and carefully financed to accommodate stable growth.

In fact, since 2012, the University has invested $458.4 million in capital projects using only $65.4 million in state funds.

So, financing, planning and delivery of new and renovated facilities is accomplished by many donors, students, faculty, student services and administration and Finance professionals in very complex ways. Let’s thank all of these people for their effort to improve our campus.

Our second big goal is to develop a high impact research university measured by the Carnegie classification R-1.

Why is this important?

First, more research opportunities provide a richer environment for undergraduate and graduate student research participation.

Second, a vibrant research enterprise is important to make the University of Nevada, Reno a destination institution for faculty and graduate students to provide a level of activity which will encourage faculty to develop whole, expanding careers here.

Third, the research enterprise is complementary with the growing economic sector in northern Nevada through the development of intellectual properties, commercializing some here and interacting with business and entrepreneurs to jointly build the economy.

Fourth, the research enterprise represents a significant industry in itself to support economic growth for the community. Recently we had an economic impact study done by Jeremy Aguero of Applied Analytics which showed that growing the university enterprise as we have described to reach our goals will take the economic impact of the university from its 2015 level of $1.1 billion annually to $1.4 billion annually, more than a 25% increase in impact, along with generation of an additional 2,000 high income jobs.

Finally, Nevada has the largest population of the 10 states without an R-1 research university and surrounding states like Arizona, Oregon and Washington have two. Earning the classification of Carnegie R-1 will bring pride to Nevada as a significant contributor to the state of knowledge.

So how do we attain R-1?

For starters, the research enterprise is reliant on research faculty. As noted before, by comparing ourselves to the Universities of Utah and New Mexico, we estimated that we needed to add 400 faculty (300 tenure track) to achieve the goal. Since 2014, we have added 167 faculty positions, and created 50 more for search during FY’18 for a total of 217 additional faculty positions to date.

Secondly, a comprehensive set of research support services is important.

Vice President Mridul Gautam and his team have improved and expanded research support services in human subjects, animal resources, sponsored project support, export control, and proposal editing. Reviews by regulatory and accreditation bodies have been stellar, building the reputation of the University as a mature place to support research.

Attention to core research facilities also has been a focus. Recently equipment for high performance computing has been purchased and installed and Switch has contributed their resources to house the equipment and provide space, cooling and security for the University’s high performance computing facility. I want to recognize Switch for their contribution worth several million dollars over the next few years, a second major contribution after partnering with the University in developing the University of Nevada, Reno InNEVation Center, Powered by Switch at 450 Sinclair Street.

Dr. Gautam always has a request on my desk for financial support for the next core facility investment.

Also part of research infrastructure for the application of technologies is the institutional apparatus to foster research and commercialization. Recently, the University has established the Nevada Research and Innovation Corporation (NVRIC), a 501c(3) corporation to stimulate private development related to university technologies.

Working with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, an Inventure Fund has been established to provide early capital investment in new businesses using university intellectual property. Faculty also have developed many organizational entities to enhance research.

One result of these organizational tools and more faculty coming on board is a continuous increase in research expenditures, reaching nearly $100 million in FY’2017.

We anticipate this figure to rise to $130 million within two years which will take the University of Nevada, Reno toward the goal of being classified as R-1 by the Carnegie Foundation; we probably need to raise this level to at least $150 million to achieve the classification.

As you can see, we are well on our way. I will restate as I have many times that the arrival at the classification of R-1 is not as important as the journey to grow the research enterprise to warrant the classification and the many benefits of a vibrant research enterprise for students, faculty and the community.

The third big goal is to serve as a pillar of economic development in the New Nevada.

Why is this important?

In addition to educating a professional workforce and providing new technologies for our diversifying community, engagement with leadership and the businesses and agencies will enhance their efforts to a smoother, faster path toward development.

The University is a full partner in achieving the New Nevada. The University provides talent, innovation and space to assist partners in the community, which creates a nexus of creativity, innovation and economic momentum.

The University has engaged with many elements of the community through the decades, but there has been a crescendo of activity recently.

Dr. Gautam has brought in several key players to help in this activity, bringing in Dr. Ellen Purpus, assistant vice president for enterprise and innovation and Dr. Carlos Cardillo as Director of the Nevada Center for Applied Research.

The philosophy the University has adopted is that the University is “open for business,” which means that we invite business into university space to use our equipment and interact with our people to develop ideas, products and businesses to stimulate opportunity. The InNEVation Center has been open for just two years. The productivity and community connectedness of the Center has gone far beyond our expectations. Many meetings, trainings, innovations, and business startups occur there.

This University investment, with the partnership of Switch, is paying off. Additionally, a Biological Entrepreneurship Lab (BEL) was created in the Applied Research Building to provide access to expensive analytical equipment for campus and community innovators. In just a few months, the BEL has attracted startup businesses to Reno from Chicago and the Bay Area because they just could not access similar equipment in other locations. Access is golden.

Many other forms of engagement are occurring across the campus and across the state. Cooperative Extension, Nevada Industry Excellence Manufacturing outreach, Small Business Development, and the UNR Medical School are serving people and communities in all seventeen counties of the state. The Nevada Seismological Laboratory has developed a new network of cameras located at their earthquake monitoring sites to provide a first warning system for wildfires in Nevada and northern California; I recently saw video of the Woodchuck fire with credits given to the Nevada Seismological Lab.

I will finish this address by mentioning three specific programs which have marked significant changes recently.

First is the transformation of the Medical School. Why is this important?

Nevada ranks 47th among states in medical doctors per capita. The University of Nevada School of Medicine was established nearly 50 years ago to fill this gap. The Regents and Governor and Legislature have decided to support expansion of public medical education to produce more doctors for a growing population.

The medical school is going through a transformation by transferring 115 physicians and a total of about 300 employees of the UNSOM Las Vegas operation to the new UNLV medical school and developing the full four-year medical school in Reno, now named the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, or UNR Med for short, while maintaining statewide operations and rural medicine, especially with developing outreach to Elko.

According to Dr. Tom Schwenk’s State of the Medical School Address, UNR Med's Class of 2021 will complete all of their third and fourth-year clerkships in northern Nevada at local hospital partner locations, rotating through neurology, internal medicine, family medicine, psychiatry, pediatrics, OB/GYN and surgery.

UNR Med has welcomed its 1,000th clinical community faculty member in August 2017. Clinical community faculty are pivotal in UNR Med students' education as they provide practical knowledge, skills and abilities in a wide variety of practice environments.

The second area experiencing transformation is Wolf Pack athletics.

Athletics provides great opportunities for student athletes to develop their talents, learn time management, and learn about community service while pursuing their degrees.

As our athletic director, Doug Knuth has put it, the approach is “to build champions in the classroom, build champions on the playing field and to build champions in the community.”

For six semesters in a row the nearly 400 Wolf Pack student-athletes in all sports have averaged better than a 3.0 GPA in their classes.

Since joining the Mountain West Conference in 2011 -- which at the time was seen as something of a stretch for the University – we are now beginning to win conference championships, including baseball in 2015, swimming and diving in 2016, men’s basketball in 2017, and the Governor’s Series in 2017.

We’ve also won the Mountain West Conference community service award, for most hours contributed in service to the community, for two of the past three seasons. Facility investments also are improving the attractiveness and success of the program: A renovated Mackay Stadium, new tennis courts, a basketball practice facility, a new track surface, and numerous improvements in locker room and student academic support facilities.

The third program undergoing significant change is Diversity. I want to emphasize this very important topic which is fundamental to the practice of our values of our University.

We certainly were challenged shortly before the beginning of the year with an association with the Charlottesville white nationalist event. We were able to rally our campus together to reaffirm our values of inclusion and repudiate bigotry and white supremacy. Our campus provides a safe environment for everyone who is prepared and pursuing a degree.

We still have a long way to go to fulfill our mission of reflecting the diversity of Nevada. Many times I have heard our students say that they can go through college without taking a class from a professor who looks like them.

This was brought home to me recently at a meeting of the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics on which I serve. A young recent graduate serving at her last meeting representing student athletes said that she didn’t really know what she wanted from a career near the end of her time in college, but that interacting with a woman coach of her basketball team and a woman athletic director gave her the courage to enter the collegiate athletic field. Role model faculty and other employees make significant impacts they may not even know.

Therefore, it is important that we continue to strive, even more effectively than we have, to diversify our faculty. The work of the Faculty Senate Diversity Committee was central to improving our faculty searches. This year, we are requiring that anyone on a search committee for a faculty position take implicit bias training before looking at applications. Additionally, we are investing in diversity by adding 11 positions, six tenure track faculty positions in Gender, Race and Identity between the College of Liberal Arts and Central Administration, 2 Title IX investigators, 1 community service specialist to help students and their families adjust to changing conditions, especially related to immigration issues, 1 website specialist to assure accessibility to websites and learning materials for the sight and hearing impaired students, and one position in the Office of Diversity Initiatives. The Diversity Core Objective in the Core Curriculum is being reviewed at the request of students to assure that this element of the Core Curriculum focuses on providing experience and understanding of contemporary issues of diversity. Finally, significant effort is being devoted to help our Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students find their way toward graduation through a very tense and shifting political and policy environment.

Additionally, we have changed the paradigm for how we view diversity. In December, 2015, the Board of Regents broadened the definition of important dimensions of diversity to include the full range of “protected” groups, including gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and preference, ability, socio-economic condition, religion, among others.

I have appointed Patricia Richard as Chief Diversity Officer to engage with faculty, staff and students. She has formed a Diversity Council of professional leaders on campus who bring expertise from a number of diverse interests to coordinate work relating to diversity, equity and inclusion. Several workshops have been supported, like Safe Zone Ally training in LGBTQIA understanding, classroom management involving free speech, understanding race, Vet Smart, and others.

I encourage you to participate in these workshops to better understand contemporary diversity, equity and inclusion issues.

I’m extremely proud of the efforts of our students, faculty and staff to engage in meaningful, thoughtful dialogue and in offering constructive ideas to make our campus more diverse and inclusive. At the beginning of the semester, several faculty members drafted an open letter to our students which reinforced our core values and assured our students we are here to stand with them. I was proud to sign this letter along with the Provost, our administration and hundreds of other faculty and staff. Student activity in the areas of inclusion and diversity has been remarkable as well. Our students continue to show us how to reach a better understanding of these important issues. Let’s applaud our students for their energy, creativity and ideas.

I feel fortunate to be surrounded by colleagues and students who are committed to the mission and core values of our University. The state of the University is strong thanks to our people and the careful planning for our future. Our planning is determining how we will fulfill our big goals.

Our actions support student success in achieving their degrees and confidence in their abilities to make a difference. Our actions support administrative and academic faculty in finding fulfillment in building careers here. Our actions support the development of the New Nevada with economic diversification to provide stable growth.

All of these goals and our actions to achieve these goals are about creating opportunities for our students, classified employees, administrative and academic faculty, and members of Nevada’s communities.

The University is recognized as a friendly place where people care about each other and where people serve one another with grace.

With intentional purpose and deliberate planning over the past several years, we have achieved record-setting institutional performance.

With so many talented people coming together in this important pursuit of all of our core objectives, we will achieve our big goals.

After all, we are the University of Nevada, Reno.