Does Nevada Have a Spending Problem?

December 4, 2008

Click link below to access a memo written by Dr. Elliott Parker to Presient Milton Glick.

parker_memo_12-1-2008rev


Town Hall Remarks December 1, 2008: Does Anyone Know What’s Really Going On?

December 1, 2008

Bill Follette, Chair Faculty Senate 2008-2009

I applaud the administration for calling us together to keep us up to date on what steps have been taken to address the budget challenges we are facing. In some ways there is no readily foreseeable good time for a Town Hall meeting. Let me recap some recent events. In a recent emergency session of the Board of Regents Investment Committee the investment income amounting to about ½ million dollars for UNR each month was suspended because of market conditions. That was on top of other budget reductions we have had to implement. The governor has asked state agencies to plan scenarios for 4, 7, and 11 % cuts for the remainder of this fiscal year to deal with the estimated $300M revenue shortfall.

Then the election occurs. Both houses in the Nevada legislature are now democratic. Private negotiations have been going on with the governor and legislative leaders and some rumors of a plan appear in the press, but details are missing. A special session of the legislature is being called though the actual specifics of the proclamation have not been set. So far there is no specific tax restructuring on the table for the regular session to consider, but there is a shift in the public dialog about considering an alternative tax structure. The governor says that everything is on the table though a close reading of his statement means everything if there are enough votes to raises taxes which coincidentally is the same amount required to override his veto. The Economic Forum meets today to make its budget projections. In the meantime, budget cuts being considered range from the 14% we have previously discussed at other Town Hall meetings to figures as high as 33% for the next biennium.

Back on the home front, the Chancellor continues to send his missives insisting that not only is a budget reduction for NSHE not possible, but a 10% increase is required. The Chancellor’s multi-point plan to address the state shortfall may have been set back by a slight misunderstanding when he asked Senator Reid for $3B which the senator misheard to be $3M, thus putting a crimp in the Chancellor’s plan since the senator said $3B to Nevada isn’t happening.

Later this week there is a Board of Regents meeting in Las Vegas during which new information may emerge. The budget is now a standing item on the agenda. The agenda listing allows for discussion and unspecified action by the Board. After the first of the year there will be four new regents, two of whom will be appointed by the governor.

All the while the Chancellor conveys a clear message that to plan for budget contractions is a sign of weakness, and that he doesn’t want the NSHE presidents to discuss plans for addressing budget reductions beyond those required so far this year. That may be the case, but it doesn’t take a psychologist to read the mood of the faculty who keep wondering, “What plans are being made to deal with these problems?” Planning for a storm doesn’t produce one, and as FEMA has learned, there is a downside to having no plan to communicate to those who might someday be affected.
The last time we met in this format, we were contemplating a 14% reduction. Now, the target is never the same two weeks in a row. The fact is that plenty is being done with as much transparency as possible.

• The provost is completing the review of the 41 centers on campus.

• Departments are completing their teaching resource management reviews.

• A committee has been formed to restructure the resources needed to replace and perhaps improve the functions provided by the math and writing centers.

• Several advisory groups have been formed to identify improvements to be made to strengthen the ability of the faculty to meet and expand the research enterprise of the university.

• The faculty are actively looking for alternative ways of funding research and programs through competitive grants.

• Meetings are occurring with student leaders to get their input on the Chancellor’s proposal for tuition increases.

Shortly the entire faculty will be involved with updating a brief, and I emphasize brief, update of our institutional strategic plan, and the academic master plan. It is important that the faculty be involved in this process because these documents are intended to define our institutional mission for the next several years. At the heart these documents are an unwavering support for UNR to maintain its research extensive status, preserve our strongest program, and to every degree possible protect our tenured and tenure track faculty because those are the only resources that can provide all the components that make our institution unique in the state.

These are difficult times. Peoples’ lives are affected, roles are changed, and hard decisions have been and will be made. The faculty senate has made what we think are improvements in the reconsideration and grievance procedures should one need to invoke those processes. Several faculty members have provided expert input into the discussion about costs and effectiveness of decisions about higher education in this state. I have seen faculty and administrators try to come together to communicate clearly about any concerns being voiced. We are all concerned about the future, whether it be about the well-being the university community, the health of state, the misfortune of colleagues, concern for the safety of a friend losing a home, or changes to the retirement and compensation system of the state.

As senate chair I have instituted a blog. So far, I have only posted limited messages to it. My reticence towards posting more has been out of deference to the Chancellor preferring to control a united message for the system. However, it is time to increase the communication between us. I will post a message at least every two weeks to which all are invited to respond on the blog itself, directly to me, or the senate office. I cannot promise that there will be earthshaking information or even consistent information given the degree of change we continue to face. If you have questions, you can use the blog as a place to ask. If I don’t know the answer I’ll try to find out who does.
This is a time where it is easy to become mistrustful. Many of you will remember a poster from the 60’s saying “Just because your paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” So far in my experience those in leadership are trying to protect our university to the best of their ability and paranoia serves no purpose. You can be curious, questioning, critical, or better yet involved as much as possible.

Let me end with a quote by Mark Twain that seems appropriate for our times:

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

So ask questions. Listen closely to answer. Participate in the discussions. Thank you for your attention and the many comments of support you have sent.