Letter to Assembly Republicans

February 25, 2010

Dear Members of the Assembly Minority:

Pardon me for sending this e-mail to you all simultaneously, but I just wanted to ask for your support in limiting the budget cuts for higher education to 5%.

I know this is a difficult time, and your choices are not easy ones. In this economy, we are no longer collecting as much in taxes as we had planned for. Nevada already has a very slim state government, and it is important that we continue to provide essential public services. Education is key to helping Nevada become part of the 21st Century economy, and continue to become a better place to live.

As you know, higher education took the deepest cuts in the last session, and we have been trying our best to cope with these cuts and provide a quality education as our student enrollments continue to increase. We have been trying to be good citizens and do our part, and we also recognize the need for supporting K-12 and providing other public services. We have tried to keep our morale high so that we can retain our most productive faculty, and keep them from leaving the state. Like our colleagues in other NSHE institutions, we want to continue to be part of a university that Nevada can be proud of, to help keep our brightest minds in state and attract more business to Nevada. This last month, that effort has sometimes seemed insurmountable, as many faculty have come to think that this state no longer values higher education.

The amount of the shortfall may seem large, but it is much less than 1% of our entire state economy. Our general fund is roughly 2.5% of Gross State Product, which is about half as much as the average state, and as a percentage of our population, our state workforce is the smallest in the country.

I strongly believe in private markets, and in free trade. In general, market economies perform much better than state-controlled ones. Nonetheless, there are limits to how small government should be. Governments provide essential services, and economies which fail to provide these things fail to prosper. Public education is one of those essential services. Our state government does not need to be much bigger, but we cannot afford for it to become even smaller.

I agree that throwing money at problems does not necessarily fix them, and there are many things we could do better. Still, taking state funds away from education will do long-term damage that we will regret for decades.

I agree that tax increases are not a good idea in a recession, but spending cuts like these will do even more harm to the economy, not just to state government but also to the private sector which sells products to the state, and to its employees. Such cuts will continue the recession’s downward spiral in spending. If we can borrow to get through this, we should, as long as that borrowing is repaid once the economy recovers.

Nevada has a very undiversified tax base which has declined much more than our overall economy. We were lucky in the past, but that luck is not likely to continue. We need to get through this biennium without doing too much harm, and then we need to take a good look at creating a more efficient tax structure, one that relies on a broad base with low rates that will not be a significant disincentive to private enterprise, one that provides a sufficient rainy day fund and greater stability during bad times like this, and one that will enable us to make investments that help diversify our economy in the future.

I speak for my faculty in saying that we hope you will consider supporting what higher education brings to the state, and help us find a way out of this dilemma.

Sincerely,

Elliott Parker, Ph.D.
Faculty Senate Chair
Professor of Economics /0030
University of Nevada, Reno
Reno, NV 89557-0207 U.S.A.
http://www.business.unr.edu/faculty/parker/


Letter to Assembly Democrats

February 25, 2010

Dear Members of the Assembly Majority:

Pardon me for sending this e-mail to you all simultaneously, but I just wanted to send you a quick “thank you” for your vote today on limiting the budget cuts for higher education to 5%. I know this vote is not binding, but nonetheless it is a bright light in a very dark tunnel.

We know this is a difficult time for you all, as you try to cope with the need to provide an essential level of public services to the state in spite of the fact that we are no longer collecting as many taxes as we had planned for, and in spite of the Governor’s unwillingness to recognize the problem for what it actually is. Nevada has a very small state government, a very undiversified tax base that has declined much more than our overall economy, and a small number of very vocal people that oppose anything government does even though they rely on those services.

As you know, higher education took the deepest cuts in the last session, and we have been trying our best to cope with these cuts and provide a quality education as our student enrollments continue to increase. We have been trying to be good citizens and do our part, and we recognize the need for supporting K-12 and providing other public services. We have tried to keep our morale high so that we can retain our most productive faculty, and keep them from leaving the state. Like our colleagues in other NSHE institutions, we want to continue to be part of a university that Nevada can be proud of, to help keep our brightest minds in state and attract more business to Nevada.

This last month, that effort has sometimes seemed insurmountable, as many faculty have come to think that this state no longer values higher education.

I speak for my faculty in saying that your vote today gives us hope that maybe there is a future for higher education in Nevada. Maybe there is hope that we can help Nevada become part of the 21st Century economy, and Nevada can continue to become a better place to live.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance as you do this difficult work.

Sincerely,

Elliott Parker, Ph.D.
Faculty Senate Chair
Professor of Economics /0030
University of Nevada, Reno
Reno, NV 89557-0207 U.S.A.
http://www.business.unr.edu/faculty/parker/


Budget Reduction Principles

February 5, 2010

Principles for Budget Discussions
Bill Follette, Chair of the Faculty Senate 2008-9

Endorsed by the Faculty Senate of the University of Nevada, Reno
June 5, 2008

Earlier this year Governor Gibbons required a 4.5% budget reduction for UNR. Following consultation with the Faculty Senate leadership, President Glick introduced strategic cuts that were governed by a set of principles that were largely in agreement with the following paragraph distributed to the senate in a memo from Steve Rock, then Chair of the Faculty Senate:

The Executive Board agrees with the principle that the teaching and research enterprise are the core missions of the university and must be protected. We further agree with the principle endorsed by past faculty senates affected by budget crises, that faculty should take steps to preserve jobs where possible. In fact, the Senate has supported delaying merit raises under similar circumstances in the past. The Executive Board sees the delay of merit as a rational way for the faculty to participate in solving UNR’s short-term budget contraction while minimizing damage to both our core mission and the long-term interests of the faculty.

Using the delay in merit, some strategic administrative restructuring, a giveback by the Board of Regents involving Project Integrate (the NSHE attempt to implement a new computer system), and an increase in tuition, the administration was largely able to achieve the goals of cutting the budget while maintaining the university’s ability to sustain its teaching and research goals. Now it appears that Governor Gibbons intends to implement an additional budget cut amounting to an additional 10-14% reduction for UNR.

While the earlier reduction was significant, the impact of this additional reduction is inestimable if it were to go forward as proposed. If this level of reduction is implemented, the core missions of the university are destined to be profoundly affected. Teaching and research will suffer, adversely impacting faculty, students, and the citizens of Nevada.

During earlier budget discussions Steve Rock and I were comfortable with asserting a position we thought would be consistent with faculty values. During those discussions it was possible to foresee a set of principles that could guide us through the budget travails. However, the principles that guided earlier budget planning cannot address the level of budget cuts now being contemplated. Thus, it is important that we engage in a discussion about triaging additional cuts if we actually must endure the reductions currently under discussion.

One of the most promising features of the way budget cuts were handled earlier in the year was that the Board of Regents adopted the plans put forth by individual campuses in the NSHE system. UNR’s proposalntailed strategic cuts that minimized impact on students and faculty. If we are to receive a similar response from the Board of Regents, any proposal put forth by the university must be thoughtful, and an approach that has the support of the faculty would likely be better received than one without our support. Here are the broad principles that should guide our input into the budget discussion that affect our campus.

Budget adjustments should be made with two strategic principles in mind:

* The first principle is to protect the teaching and research missions of the university to the fullest extent possible. This principle implies that elimination of programs that impact students and termination of faculty are measures of last resort. The success of students and the welfare of faculty and staff who are affected by class reductions or the elimination of programs in teaching, research, or service shall be protected to the fullest extent possible.

* Should it be necessary to impact personnel or programs, the second principle is to preserve the overall functioning of those elements of the university that have achieved national prominence and provide the most value to university constituencies.

The first principle continues to emphasize that the primary missions of the university be preserved as fully as possible. It also recognizes that people will be impacted by the governor’s choice of how to deal with the budget shortfall. Jobs and learning opportunities may well be lost and lives disrupted. This reality requires us to be creative in finding methods of helping people permanently or temporarily alter their role at the university. There are many ways to address this possibility should it come to that. Some options may involve proposals for revisions to the NSHE Code. The point is not to list all possibilities here but to state the importance of protecting the well-being of students, staff, and colleagues through whatever creative means are possible. The teaching and research missions of the university cannot be sacrificed. Given the importance of preserving enrollment to the greatest extent possible, the faculty senate will strongly advocate that the Chancellor and the Regents fully consider the elimination or delay
of system level initiatives that have minimal, immediate direct impact on the teaching mission of the system.

The second principle explicitly states that some cuts would not be evenly distributed but strategically implemented. This means that rather than damaging all programs to the point they cannot function effectively, some would be considered for reduction or elimination so that others can maintain high levels of quality or even enhance their functioning. UNR will suffer irreparable harm if, at the end of this process, the only result is that all programs are diminished. This alternative strategy is to maintain or cultivate success in selected programs. Unexamined, across the board cuts are not the means by which our campus should address a financial crisis. The ability to attract and retain excellent faculty and students is crucial. This depends on critical elements of the university maintaining high, positive visibility. This is certainly applicable to activities that enhance our national and international reputation through scholarly publication or other creative activity. The university has only recently achieved Carnegie Research Extensive status and is the only institution in the state with that designation. This status cannot be jeopardized.

It should be stated that before any thoughtful evaluation of programs can occur, reliable, relevant data on costs and value must be available. The costs are relatively easy to identify. The value may not be as clear. Certainly FTEs, extramural funding, publications, creative activities, donations and patronage can be identified. There may be other less tangible values of programs that should be highlighted. Part of any discussion about change requires that those involved agree upon the data to be used in the evaluation process.

We can get much more detailed and specific once we agree on the larger principles and more fully understand the magnitude of actual cuts. The proposed principles allow the broadest dialogue between our faculty leadership, the administration and the Board of Regents.

Note that outlining these principles does not in any way suggest that we believe cuts of this magnitude are ise or defensible. The senate opposes such budget reductions. There is no set of principles that can successfully protect the teaching and research missions of the university if cuts even remotely near those being discussed are imposed. However, if discussions of budget cuts go forward, these principles will help shape our position.