The Governor Strikes Back

Since last summer the governor has told the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE, that includes UNR) to plan for a budget reduction. Some of that reduction has taken place, and we have lost valuable colleagues, student and faculty services and funding support. Since the beginning of the budget discussions the UNR administration has never known the exact or even approximate amount of budget cut for which to plan. The chancellor has exerted control over the message from NSHE to the governor, legislators, the public and, to some degree, even within the campuses themselves. In spite of that, President Glick has tried to keep the campus informed with his town hall meetings. However, even at those meetings he could not provide much detail because the magnitude of cuts was still unknown. It wasn’t until a special December Board of Regents meeting a budget reflecting a 14% reduction went from the Board to the Governor. The Board would not send budgets reflecting even deeper cuts as the governor requested because the methodology used to plan larger cuts would have to be different from that used to plan a 14% cut. Our campus has been working towards that general figure since last summer, but still that figure was a guess.

Well, the governor’s state of the state budget message Thursday night removed the ambiguity about the magnitude of the cuts. Nearly 75% of the state shortfall has been targeted to Nevada higher education. (See  http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2009/jan/16/jon-ralston-cutting-educations-nose-spite-rogers-f for some speculation about the reasons for specific targeting of higher education.) The budget details are contained in about 3,000 pages of budget information, but the bottom line is that UNR as a whole is targeted for a 36% budget cut. The governor’s budget targets for the University itself (not counting the medical school, athletics, etc.) approaches 50%. While I personally believe the legislature will not pass a budget that severe, the cut will be somewhere between 14% to 36%. I’d like to be wrong about this, but it will take a creative legislative plan to addresses the revenue shortfall inflicted on higher education.

Where Are We Now? 

There is an upcoming pre-legislative hearing where we may get an indication of how disposed the legislature is to redress this effort to dismantle higher education. There is also a Board of Regents meeting February 5th -6th where a Board with three new members will try to delineate a strategy for carrying our case to the legislature and probably start discussing contingency plans. On February 12th, President Glick will host a Town Hall where all are invited to provide input and ask questions. I will announce coffee meetings open for interested faculty to talk directly with me informally and directly. New information and rumors will be unfolding at an ever accelerating pace as the legislative session moves forward. If you have not been reading the chancellors weekly missives (you are the only person in Nevada spared), you know that he states that 54 of the 63 members of the legislature have indicated some level of support for NSHE and higher education. It remains to be seen as to whether these statements will translate into any kind of meaningful action.

It is simply impossible to be anything but outraged by the governor’s disregard for the NSHE, the mission, the faculty, the students, and economic contribution the university makes to the state. The tone of the conversation has changed. This budget is both a blow to the health of our university and an insult to the hard work of all the members of our university community. The decision to gut NSHE while touting economic diversification is absurd. To ignore the economic contribution of the university is an astounding oversight. To advocate that a tuition increase can address the problem requires that one thinks students can’t multiply. If we passed this shortfall onto students, tuition would increase from about $4,000 per year to about $13,000 in the fall. Arguments that there is no need for a comprehensive university implies Nevada has no role in the generation of knowledge, no shortage of the sophisticated workforce new energy technologies require and no shortage of synergies between innovation and industry – all incredibly uninformed positions.

Every individual faculty member has the right to make whatever political statements he or she wishes. I am sure many of you are intending to enter into the public political discussion. There will be coordinated efforts by various parts of the university community to speak out to legislators and communicate a coherent message about Nevada higher education. There will be some coordinated activities on campus and in Carson City. I think one thing that might be particularly effective is for those of you who know legislators to call them and respectfully make whatever argument you believe will be most effective. Direct contact can be extremely useful and is the least easy feedback to ignore. Phone calls are meaningful as well. It is the legislators who will have to propose an alternative budget and vote in large enough numbers to override the likely governor’s veto. If you have any contacts or have influence yourself, now is the time to use it.

In my next blog I will describe the importance of participating in campus planning for how to allocate our resources so that we can make the best decisions possible about how to deal with whatever cuts eventually do emerge. In the meantime, this message is primarily to tell you that if you want to share any strategies or ask questions, the senate office is at your disposal. I think coordinated activity is likely to be better than uncoordinated effort, but each of you must decide how you want to represent our university’s interests.

Bill Follette
Chair, Faculty Senate



6 Responses to “The Governor Strikes Back”

  1.   elliott Says:

    Before faculty freak out, it is worth reading Speaker Buckley’s reply to the Governor’s proposal, at: http://media.lasvegassun.com/media/pdfs/blogs/documents/2009/01/15/demresponse09.pdf.

    The Speaker makes it clear the Legislature has no intention of taking the Governor’s budget proposal seriously.

    Elliott

  2.   Jill Wallace Says:

    Reading Speaker Buckley’s reply to the governor’s proposal made me feel somewhat better, but I think it is very important that, as legislators meet to review and discuss this proposal , they have a QUALITATIVE understanding of what a university, whose budget has been cut at levels above the 14% already planned, looks like. I’m suggesting a description of what can continue to be funded or not funded at different levels of cuts, a description that makes it very clear what a 20-25-30-35-40-47% cut means. Although the legislators do not currently support the governor’s proposal, I’m not sure that the PEOPLE of this state understand its potential impact and they may not understand until those cuts become more PERSONAL. I am thinking back to this summer and the huge support and outcry that occurred when it became known that the marching band would not be funded. In comparison, what kind of support do you think would materialize if people knew that a college on this campus that had touched their lives in some way would be eliminated or that tuition would go from $4,000 to $13,000 in one semester? I was discouraged this morning when I read the article in the Reno Gazette regarding the student protest in Carson where more reporters (11) showed up than students (2). What does that imply to the general public? And, although I believe and trust in the words of Speaker Buckley, the unified voice of the people of this state can and often do have a strong influence on our legislators’ final vote and I’m not sure that “no further cuts to education” is as strong an opinion of the people of the state as Speaker Buckley indicated in her letter. While I think that writing and talking with our legislators is a good strategy, I’m suggesting that we may need to do more as a collective group.

  3.   Judy Strauss Says:

    thanks for keeping us informed, Bill! /Judy

  4.   Jen Huntleysmith Says:

    Hello Bill and Elliott–

    I just received an invitation via facebook to an “Education in Crisis” meeting in vegas on Monday–is Jodi Herzik UNR’s only rep going down there? Will there be someone who could collect input from us up here and transmit it at that meeting? I would really like to be informed about what goes on there.

    Thanks,
    Jen

  5.   Bll Follette Says:

    I will also be going down to the town hall in Las Vegas where Chancellor Rogers and Chair of the Board of Regents Michael Wixom will be speaking. I will also talking with the three faculty senate chairs in the south. Tomorrow I will be having a video conference with all the system senate chairs following a meeting the Vice Chancellor, Dan Klaich.

    There are several reasons I am attending this meeting. First, I want to hear firsthand what issues are being discussed without having the results filtered through the news media or others. The second reason is to understand what issues seem to resonate with members of the audience. Third, the way the budget is being proposed, all of the NSHE institutions are under significant threat (listen to the chancellors version of the state of the state Friday night on television). I think it is important that our colleagues in the south understand that there is a virtue in having a collaborative message that applies to both northern and southern constituents. I want the speakers to know that we are all participants in this conversation, and if the presence of faculty leadership from the north reminds them of that, it seems like a good reason to be there.

    I am happy to relay any concerns our faculty might convey to me to pass on if the opportunity presents itself. I will be at the Board of Regents meeting February 5-6, also in Las Vegas at CSN, so there will be multiple chances to make our points.

    As I said in the “Strikes Back” blog, the issue now is one of persuading the legislature of the value of alleviating this financial threat on the NSHE system. I expect some of the discussion Monday to be “preaching to the choir”, but if issues are omitted perhaps I can help refine the message, if not there, then when UNR speaks.
    I still encourage you and the rest of the university community to contact your legislature via phone or email. Respective and persistent messages can and will influence the process. We can go to http://leg.state.nv.us/bills/bills.cfm and see who are legislators are and what their committee assignments are. Clearly the Finance Committee and theWays and Means Committee are two crucial committees to contact since they will draft the budget that will ultimately be voted on by the legislature.

    I will be watching the blog site if anyone wishes to make me aware of issues that you want to be sure I have in mind as the discussion proceeds. Thanks to those of you who have sent me emails of support. I appreciate them and any other feedback you have.

    Bill

  6.   Donnie Curtis Says:

    Bill,

    I noticed a new theme in the Chancellor’s budget brief this week — an ugly turn in the discussion of the budget cuts that I interpret as an attempt to pit the southern institutions against the northern institutions. Thalia Dondero’s memo seems like a declaration of civil war, and Bart Patterson’s memo seems to open the door to the possibility of the Regents looking at reallocation of funds among the institutions, even if it IS unconstitutional for the counties to take over as governing bodies. What is your take on this issue? For those who haven’t seen it: http://tinyurl.com/c6rsfw.

    I can understand how UNLV and CSN might feel desperate under these circumstances, but it seems to me that it is important for the schools to stand together and present a united front. From your vantage point, are the administrators and faculty leaders at UNLV likely to jump on the redistribution bandwagon?

    Donnie

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