Las Vegas Sun

July 24, 2014

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LOOKING IN ON: HIGHER EDUCATION:

As budget cuts loom, UNLV lacks requested program rankings

With the state facing a revenue shortfall, UNLV’s leadership decided late last year to ask deans to evaluate academic programs to determine which were most productive.

If massive budget cuts were to materialize, information gathered during the review would help administrators identify programs to cut, reduce or suspend.

But the evaluation process never began.

Jim Rogers, chancellor of Nevada’s public higher education system, told administrators he thought ranking programs would be detrimental, causing panic among faculty members.

“It would have done nothing other than upset everyone,” said Rogers, who does not believe the university will face large cuts.

“I don’t want to get ready for a funeral,” he said, “because there isn’t going to be one.”

In an interview last week, the chancellor said university leaders know which programs are strongest, and that “they do rank programs.”

But the reality is that administrators proposed the formal evaluations because they wanted more information on their university’s strengths and weaknesses.

At a campus town hall meeting in December, Neal Smatresk, UNLV’s executive vice president and provost, told a crowd of more than 100 the program review was “a process that should have been going on in the ordinary course of events, one that is being jump-started now.”

Criteria that would have been used in determining a program’s value would have included placement in national rankings, graduation rates, job placement rates for graduates and faculty members, and success in bringing competitive grants and other revenue to the university. Deans were to place programs in three categories: Low-, moderate- and high-performing.

UNLV President David Ashley called the formal evaluation process “good management” and said it would begin when administrators have more information on what the school’s final budget will look like. After years of growth, Ashley said, UNLV should “take a hard look” at its repertoire of programs to determine which are struggling and whether to take action that could include shuttering those programs or investing more resources into them to promote their success.

Many of UNLV’s newest offerings have struggled to attract students. A master of science program in biomedical engineering launched in 2004, for instance, had just two students enrolled at the start of 2008.

•••

At its meeting last week in Las Vegas, the public higher education system’s board of regents postponed a decision on whether to increase pay for faculty members teaching summer school at the University of Nevada, Reno.

UNR President Milt Glick said summer school teachers at the university are woefully underpaid. The proposal regents were considering would have raised summer stipends for full professors at UNR from $1,990 per credit hour to $2,070 per credit hour. Full professors visiting from other universities would receive $1,705 per credit hour, up from $1,625 per credit hour.

Though summer school is “self-supporting,” meaning it operates using non-state funds, several regents expressed concern about giving raises at a time when state colleges are facing budget cuts. The board delayed until its April meeting a decision on the pay increases and changes to other colleges’ summer salary schedules.

Regent Bill Cobb requested that higher education system staff provide information in April including data showing what comparable institutions pay summer school professors.

•••

Also at the regents meeting, Regent Ron Knecht told his colleagues he thinks higher education officials’ actions over the past year have hurt the university and college system.

Last year regents sent Gov. Jim Gibbons’ office a request for a 10.5 percent budget increase despite the governor’s order to submit a plan reflecting 14.12 percent in cuts.

With the governor now recommending a 36 percent cut in higher education funding, Knecht told the board that a more cooperative approach might have gotten better results.

Board Chairman Michael Wixom responded to Knecht, saying he strongly believed the board had been prudent and thoughtful.

“I believe we took the right action at the right time,” Wixom said.

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