Q&A: University Provost answers questions about budget-cut proposal, part 1 of 3

It was announced on March 1 by the University of Nevada, Reno that the University was beginning a process to review its curricula, a proposal that could eliminate a number of academic degrees and some departments in order  for the University to meet state mandated budget reductions of 6.9%. I sent to the University media relations office the following questions, which were answered by Executive Vice President and Provost Marc Johnson. The Q&A will continue tomorrow and conclude on Thursday.

Q: How long as this plan been in progress? The session ended early Monday and the news release was sent at 5:30 on Monday. What transpired in the planning process that led to these proposals such that they would meet the targeted 6.9% budget reduction?

Nevada’s difficult economic situation has been with us for awhile, and the potential for state-funded services to face cuts had been forecasted for months. In various settings with faculty, staff and student leaders over the past several months, we have expressed our commitment to review academic programs in a vertical and strategic manner that allows us to preserve our strongest programs and not diminish the overall quality of what this University offers.

Specific program-review discussions with deans began in late 2009. The Academic Planning/ Curricular Review Process was presented to the Faculty Senate in January and shared at a University Town Hall in early February. In January the Nevada System of Higher Education institutions were asked to prepare for cuts of 8 percent. On Jan. 22, the situation changed dramatically when the Economic Forum met and projected cuts of 20 percent or more.

We have watched this storm cloud coming and have been planning for some time, but the extent of our cuts was made clear through the special session of the legislature. With that known, we did move quickly, taking great care to first notify those who would be directly impacted. After a day-long series of meetings with those directly impacted, we notified the campus, media and others.

The need to make cuts is a reality and we will lose academic programs. Even though we will be a narrower University, we stand by our commitment to ensure students stay on path toward a quality degree and achieving their career goals. We remain strongly committed to meeting the University’s core missions through a vibrant research program and strong academic offerings.

Q: So when was the Curricular Review Proposal crafted? The day the session ended? Were members of the Faculty Senate, Staff Employees Council, Graduate Student Association and/or ASUN included in drafting the Proposal?

The curricular review proposal was the result of many weeks of work and the March 1 proposal was finalized over the weekend prior to the closure of the special session of the legislature. At that point, the likely budget cut target of 6.9 percent was widely publicized through the media. Had the budget cut percentage been higher or lower, the proposal would have been expanded or contracted. We greatly appreciate the effort of Nevada’s elected officials who did their best to minimize the budget cut percentage and the damage.

The curricular review proposal initiates and is reviewed through an Academic Planning Process, developed jointly with Faculty Senate leadership. Student and faculty leaders were apprised of the Academic Planning Process, the curricular review concept and the curricular review criteria in January and February. The Academic Planning Process allows for review and recommendation by the Faculty Senate, and faculty, staff and students can give input to the process through the deans.

The full Curricular Review Proposal, the Academic Planning Process and other related information is available at http://www.unr.edu/provost/

Q: The Curricular Review Proposal cites the 2009 Bureau of Economic Analysis report that indicates Nevada’s agricultural contribution to the GDP as 2%. Were Gross State Product percentages used as justifications for the elimination of other programs and/or the retentions of other programs and colleges? How is this a adequate measure of an academic program?

The budget reduction process forces us to closely evaluate how best to allocate the resources of the state to best serve the interests of its citizenry. A vitally important role of the University is to prepare students to join the workforce that fuels business, industry and future economic development, and GDP is an indicator by which to evaluate which economic sectors are growing or contracting. The contribution of agriculture to Nevada’s GDP – which is 0.2 percent – was a reference point in the evaluation of our agriculture-related programs and is noted in the Curricular Review Proposal as background. However, it should in no way be assumed this was a sole determinant in the proposal.

The criteria for program review, as outlined in the proposal, included:

  • Degrees granted.
  • Enrollment in the major.
  • Student Full Time Equivalent production.
  • Scholarship productivity.
  • External scholarship grant award and expenditure performance.
  • “Connectedness” or importance to the fulfillment of other programs at the University.
  • Centrality to mission.
  • National and international uniqueness of the program.
  • Other considerations to preserve complementary elements of programs.

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Disclosure (and why I care): My roots at UNR are deep. I received my bachelors in journalism in 1995. In 2001 I obtained my masters in counseling and educational psychology. I am currently a doctoral student in the Department of Educational Leadership. I was a director of marketing communications at the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources and the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station until 2006, I still assist the Experiment Station on projects about once a year and I am currently on a short-term, research-assistant contract at the Experiment Station hired to assist with the development of the Great Basin Environmental Program. I am also a founding member of the Friends and Alumni of the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources. The interview with University Provost Marc Johnson and my opinions about this situation are mine. While certain faculty, who did not want to be publicly named, were invaluable in providing data and context for both the interview, these pieces were initiated by me alone and were enacted in consultation and review by the other volunteers at This Is Reno.

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Bob Conrad

Bob Conrad

Co-founder
Bob Conrad is co-founder of This Is Reno. He's been a Reno resident since 1990. He is the public information officer for the Nevada Department of Agriculture. He previously was with the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and was a director of marketing communications at the University of Nevada. He also is graduate adjunct faculty at Morrison University. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism, is accredited in public relations and has his doctorate in educational leadership.
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