Will UNR die?

UNR President Milt Glick’s presentation and info about upcoming informational and activist events at www.unr.edu/budget2011

People jammed into the Joe Crowley Student Union ballroom to hear the good news, the bad news, mostly the bad news, the lamentations of a university president who came here 4.5 years ago. The University of Nevada, Reno was growing then, making progress with student retention, graduation rates and research.

It was the best of times. Now it’s the worst of times. A proposed 2011-2013 budget would cut another $59 million from Nevada’s oldest university.

UNR President Milton Glick began a recent town hall meeting with a recap. UNR’s budget has already been cut by $44 million. The result: 414 positions lost, 23 degrees gone, 29 programs cut and a 28 percent tuition increase for students.

That’s history. Starry-eyed dreamers (me!) fantasized that we’d see above funds restored by lawmakers. Not going to happen.

Record numbers of students, the most diverse and brightest freshman class, flowed into the university in the fall (assisted by increased Pell Grant dollars—thank you, Obama). UNR awarded record numbers of degrees last year.

“We have 17,679 reasons to be here,” Glick said. “That’s how many students are here today.”

Glick promised to fight to keep the school from losing its soul, its essence, its athletic program, its hard-won status as a Tier 1 national university. Obviously, no funds will be restored to the school. But cutting $59 million would end UNR as we know and love it.

If faculty and staff take a 5 percent pay cut, UNR saves $9 million. If tuition goes up another 12 percent, that’s $10 million. This scenario leaves $40 million left to cut.

Glick was tight-lipped about what limbs might be lopped off given the worst-case scenario. Bad morale could result from, for example, informing a college that it might close and then, glory be, a revenue-boosting budget is passed and the college survives.

Glick also doesn’t believe in making across-the-board cuts, which “hurt everyone.”

Since no specific examples were given to show how $59 million in cuts could be achieved, I looked at UNR’s state budget appropriations for fiscal year 2010-2011 and played around. Here’s my gory plan:

First, excise the business school ($8.1 million) and health sciences ($7.7 million). Who needs MBAs, nurses or surgical tools? Use a dirty butcher knife to amputate education ($5.9 million) because no high school diploma is required to hack off engineering ($10 million). I’m Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of North Virginia Street!

Where does this leave us? Around $32 bloody million. Only about $27 million left to cut.

Tough choices. Carve out interdisciplinary studies (atmospheric science to judicial studies and social psychology—all for only $656,022). Instructional support ($3.1 million). Science and math ($17.4 million) goes because physics is hard and who ever uses algebra again?

Desperate times call for axing UNR’s jewel, the nationally renowned Reynolds School of Journalism ($1.6 million). As a journalism lecturer, I’m now among the unemployed.

That’s less than $59 million, but excise support for above closed schools from other budget lines, and I’m there. Campus is a ghost town, except for the School of Medicine, athletes working out at Lombardi Rec and seniors debating philosophy in Frandsen Humanities. I preserved the College of Liberal Arts (anthropology, criminal justice, English) because my son’s working on a history degree. I’d like to see him finish.

Glick said he believes “with every bone” in his body that lawmakers do not want to see higher education cut. Even many business leaders know that education is the key to economic development and success in the state.

If the university brings value to Nevada, then the state should support the school, Glick said. “If the university has no value to the state, then the state shouldn’t have a university.”