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UNR: State Of University Strong, But Challenges Remain

By Carla O'Day
UNR President Marc Johnson. Image: UNR.

UNR President Marc Johnson. Image: UNR.

By Carla O’Day

University of Nevada, Reno president Marc Johnson outlined the strengths and trials facing the school on Tuesday during a campus speech in a ballroom filled with students, staff and the community.

In his State of the University Address, Johnson said UNR’s impact is deepening and it’s quickly becoming a contributor to the area’s economic diversification and a top quality place for learning and research.

Student enrollment at UNR has increased by 1,000 students each of the previous two years and was up by 450 this year to a total of 21,353, Johnson said. About 70 percent are Nevada residents. The slight dip in the enrollment increase this year was due to efforts to decrease the university’s 22-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio to 18-to-1.

“Additional faculty positions are critical to research growth,” Johnson said. “We are proud to have added these 166 positions to our faculty roster the past three years. We’re committed to making 80 percent of our new faculty positions tenure track lines. This will assume growth across the full range of university missions of teaching, research and engagement.”

Computer science professor Fred Harris said there were fewer than 10,000 students at UNR when he began teaching there in 1994. The student body is more diverse than it ever has been, with about 39 percent identifying as minorities. UNR is also doing a better job working with the city.

“Because of economic diversification, we’re seeing a connection with our city we’ve never seen before,” Harris said. “Instead of downtown being ‘casino row,’ it’s a ‘start-up row.’”

Achieving Carnegie R1 status, which indicates the highest research activity, is a goal that would add 2,000 new jobs to the community.

Johnson said UNR’s exciting future will also include challenges.

“The Board of Regents has an aggressive proposal for higher education. The regents’ first priority is to obtain faculty salary enhancement equivalent to other state employees. We’re hoping this comes in the form of a merit raise. Another top priority is to honor the higher education funding formula,” Johnson said. “The formula entails case load growth which results in additional funding at a fixed dollar amount for each weighted student credit hour completed. With our high rate of successful course completions, this means our state fund revenue to the university should grow significantly. Another priority is to support capacity enhancement at all of the institutions. Our university proposal focuses on faculty, staff, equipment infrastructure to support additional capacity for education, and research and to advance manufacturing.”

Additionally, diversity issues will receive significant attention in the next year. Safe Zone Ally Workshops will help increase understanding of issues faced by the LGBTQ community in effort to create a more inclusive and supportive campus climate. Training for staff on how to work with military veterans, racial minorities and disabled students is also planned.

Students’ efforts were also recognized during Johnson’s address. For the second year in a row, UNR athletes won the Mountain West’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee Community Service Award.

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