Last Thursday, Feb. 3, the Chancellor and NSHE presidents addressed the Regents about the devastating impact of the proposed 29-percent cut to NSHE state support, on top of the more than 20 percent which has been cut in the past three years. It became quickly clear that this sustained reduction in state investment in higher education will irreversibly cut off educational opportunities for many families in this state, which already suffers from the lowest rate of college participation in the country. Let’s hope Carson City is paying attention.
Much of the meeting was devoted to deeply depressing discussions, which focused on an almost inevitable across-the-board pay cut for all faculty and staff, significant fee increases for students. There were also far too many mentions of the need to prepare for faculty layoffs; eliminations of degree programs, academic departments and even whole colleges through a declaration of financial exigency
; and/or program review
(on which we have written in the past and will, unfortunately, likely have more to say in future reports).
Anyone who had not gotten the message previously was put on notice: The situation of higher education in this state is dire.There were also some important aspects that were, while not good news, at least reassuring.
First, on the pay-cut issue, the Chancellor promptly and correctly pointed out that the change to the Code concerning pay cuts, as negotiated with faculty leadership last spring, does not allow the Board to act unless the legislature acts first
. In other words, when one institution president proposed a 6-percent pay cut, the Chancellor pointed out that the Governor's proposal to the legislature is for a 5-percent pay cut. If that is enacted, the Board could only pass through that cut, not a deeper one, without declaring exigency. This significant compromise, we believe, illustrates the true principle of shared sacrifice, as faculty and staff have been and will continue to do more work for less compensation.
Secondly, the Chancellor pointed out, there are some good things in the Governor's budget for higher ed, including local government support from property tax revenues
(which in the long term are likely to increase) and greater Board budgetary autonomy
. The problem, of course, is the perception that this autonomy in and of itself will allow the Board to fill the budget hole. Regent Kevin Page quickly laid that misperception to rest, telling the campus presidents not to consider it realistic to present any plans that would fill the budget gap entirely on the backs of students or on the backs of faculty.
Most importantly almost all the presidents, especially UNLV President Smatresk and UNR President Milt Glick, focused on the risk to the state of loss of faculty
. Regents demonstrated they understood the seriousness of what is being proposed for not only higher ed but also the state. In particular, Regent Wixom pointed out what bad business it is for the state to put itself at such risk to lose faculty whose grants and contracts represent not hypothetical business development but "real dollars in real time that will be leaving the state."
He also pointed out that it is bad financial practice to monetize a business's essential capital to fund operations. This is just what the state is proposing to do when it considers cutting higher education, and with it our key instrument of human capital development, in order to fund operations that, if the state were considered a business, would be secondary support areas.
Institutional presidents were instructed to prepare more detailed budget plans on how they will implement cuts of this magnitude – on top of the cuts already taken over the past three years. Those reports, presumably, will be given at the next regularly scheduled Regents meeting, March 10-11, in Carson City.
The meeting closed with Regent Chair James Dean Leavitt forcefully calling for more tax revenue. He said that only with more revenues can the dire problems facing NSHE institutions be dealt with.