Higher Ed

Smells Like School Spirit

UNR president John Lilley said that he expects there’ll be some “phasing out of jobs and faculty” in response to budget cuts at the University of Nevada, Reno.

UNR president John Lilley said that he expects there’ll be some “phasing out of jobs and faculty” in response to budget cuts at the University of Nevada, Reno.

The good news is that University of Nevada, Reno, President John Lilley said he expects no further cuts to the university’s budget. The bad news is that everyone throughout the university system can expect to feel the current reductions.

Gov. Kenny Guinn recently ordered the university system, along with all state agencies, to trim its proposed $1.28 billion 2003-2004 budget by 3 percent in response to the state’s projected $333 million revenue shortfall. That’s a hard pill for anyone to swallow, particularly a university president with only one year’s tenure.

I caught up with Lilley after the annual UNR Foundation Banquet at Harrah’s Convention Center, during which Cokie Roberts delivered a keynote address. While Lilley stood in line to wait for the valet, he tried to seem optimistic. Lilley said that there may, in fact, be “a phasing out of jobs and faculty at the university” to cut corners in the university budget.

“But no across-the-board cuts,” Lilley said, “and we will protect admissions.”

Lilley and his staff have other things to worry about. The University and Community College System of Nevada must still deal with the expenditure to restore the health-care reserve fund for the Public Employees Benefit Plan. The Nevada Legislature took measures to save the health-care reserve fund during an emergency legislative session this summer. The move kept the reserve fund from collapse but presented an unbudgeted cost to the university of $723 per employee.

Altogether, the university must identify about $5.8 million in savings for its 2003-04 budget. The administration has proposed a partial closure of the school during semester break, Dec. 21 through Jan. 5. That will reduce utility costs but will have some other repercussions. For example, it could also result in a reduction or loss of pay for university employees who don’t have vacation or compensatory time to cover the loss of hours during the shutdown.

Drastic measures like cutting employees, scaling back courses, increasing professor workloads and decreasing campus hours are considered essential elements to the university’s budget-reduction strategy, but they may not be the stuff that school spirit is made of. Especially if that strategy leads to cuts in pension funds, delayed retirement or early retirement in the form of a pink slip for employees.

Guinn’s demand for budget cuts couldn’t come at a worse time. The school is experiencing record student enrollment, as well as an unprecedented expansion of its research programs. Lilley, who came on board last year, received a directive from the USSCN Board of Regents to take UNR to “the next level” as an academic research facility. Course cuts and increased workloads for professors could seriously hamper that plan.

Budget cuts already have some faculty members doing a few janitorial tasks, said Leonard Weinberg, president of the Nevada Faculty Alliance and a political science professor at UNR.

But things have been worse, Weinberg recalled. During the time that Robert List was governor of Nevada, shortages were, essentially, life-threatening for some university inhabitants.

“We couldn’t afford to feed lab animals," Weinberg said.