Statement of the UNR Faculty Senate Chair (Presented to the NSHE Board of Regents Friday, June 19, 2009)
The faculty of UNR are grateful to the Legislature, the Board of Regents, and the citizens of this state for their efforts to defend higher education from a devastating budget reduction that would have effectively dismantled the NSHE system into the indefinite future. We also want to express our admiration for our students for recognizing that the education they receive is valuable, and appreciate that they are willing to pay more to help us keep providing it.
We recognize that this proposal represents serious work by many people, in an effort to balance what the Legislature wanted us to do with what we can legally do and what is wise to do. We know that the Regents are doing their best to balance these demands.
For legitimate legal reasons, this proposal gives tenured faculty the option to increase their work responsibilities instead of taking the pay cut, but this option is not given to others.
In the last several days as I have been getting input from my constituents, I have noticed a pattern. Those who were most concerned with the apparent unfairness of this – including myself – are themselves tenured. Those who were the least concerned about it are themselves untenured.
As I worry about the morale effects of separating out our faculty for differential treatment for legal reasons, it brings me great comfort to know that many of our people are so unselfish, and so concerned for their colleagues.
Still, in my opinion, it would be a good idea to give more people the option to do more, and not just require them to do less. Please consider whether the options this proposal makes available to tenured faculty might best be made available to others.
Faculty at my university are willing to do their part, and most of us are not opposed to temporary pay cuts if the Regents deem them necessary, but we want them to be done carefully because we are concerned with negative unintended consequences.
The Legislature recognized in SB 433 that NSHE was a special and complicated case, and gave the Regents the flexibility to institute pay cuts in other ways. We need to take this opportunity to make sure that we are taking the wisest path.
This proposal explicitly exempts DRI’s professional staff if they are entirely funded by grants. We strongly support this. What we would ask you to understand is that there are units at UNR that are exactly like DRI, and I assume these exist at UNLV too.
The Terawatt Facility and the Center for the Application of Substance Abuse Technologies, for example, both depend entirely on grants. There are also many research programs within departments that greatly augment their budgets and their support for students through extramural grant activities, and provide additional overhead for the university.
Making them take furloughs out of a sense of fairness simply hurts our budgets and our state economy, with no savings to NSHE or the state budget. Some may lose grants or contracts they can no longer fulfill, and most will reduce the amount of overhead that they bring to the university.
Some of you work for law firms, or other similar professional firms. Suppose the office manager has reduced the wages of the secretarial staff because of budget problems. To be fair, your office manager tells you that you must also work less and reduce your billable hours. It seems to me that that would only make the firm’s budget problem worse.
The UNR faculty senate overwhelmingly supported a resolution to apply reductions in state support only to state-funded salaries. At least, we should allow our Presidents to exempt some of our people from salary cuts if no savings would result. The principle that exempts DRI is equally applicable to similarly-generated funds at any of the NSHE institutions.
One part of the rationale for making higher education absorb most of the state’s budget reduction was that higher education should and could be more entrepreneurial, more like DRI, and less dependent on state funding.
Thus, I think we may be missing out on an opportunity. There are potential outside resources now available to many of our people. Now is the time to develop creative policy that empowers and incentivizes faculty seeking these resources, but we have rules that undermine some of the incentive to go after them, and these salary cuts will make it worse. Let us take this time of crisis to encourage our people to apply for more grants and contracts, to allow them the opportunity to make up for the reduction in their state funding, and to encourage more entrepreneurship by our faculty.
These changes should be left to individual institutions that can best understand and balance their missions and opportunities to meet the budget challenges. The Board can and should frame the parameters to consider, but ultimately our response to SB 433 should be measured by how thoughtfully we meet our missions within the budget constraints we face rather than following a literal reading of the bill.