Las Vegas Sun

November 23, 2014

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LOOKING IN ON: HIGHER EDUCATION:

Faculty, professional staff shielded from furloughs

Lawmakers agree to impose a day a month on other workers

Higher education employees fought budget cuts together. But one group of workers could benefit from those efforts more than others.

Legislative leaders have agreed on a plan under which state employees such as administrative assistants and custodians would be furloughed for one day per month. Faculty and the higher education system’s professional staffers such as budget analysts, on the other hand, likely will not have to take unpaid time off.

That’s because the Legislature sets salaries for classified employees, but the Board of Regents sets salaries for both faculty, whose compensation is protected by system policies, and professional staffers, who must be given up to one fiscal year’s notice regarding contract changes.

The Legislature cannot order the higher education system to reduce faculty and professional staff pay, and immediate furloughs or pay cuts for these employees would require the system to declare financial exigency, said Dan Klaich, the public higher education system’s executive vice chancellor.

Regents will discuss the differences at their meeting in June, board Chairman Michael Wixom said. But he said he does not know how the system could eliminate such inequities.

Many system officials have expressed strong opposition to declaring financial exigency.

•••

In other times, a 12.5 percent cut in state funding for higher education might have been greeted with shock and dismay.

But as campus presidents have presented information on budget reductions to students, staff and faculty members, the mood has been largely one of relief.

After more than a year of uncertainty about finances, many stakeholders were pleased just to have a sense of the size of the cut their institutions would face.

Rumors among some employees had placed the potential cut at about 20 percent, and many people were relieved that the reduction turned out to be smaller.

At a town-hall meeting last week at the College of Southern Nevada’s Henderson campus, President Michael Richards told employees they have reason to be optimistic.

Despite climbing enrollment and a shrinking budget, Richards told his audience, “Do feel good about this. Do feel positive about this, because we’re going to move forward.”

Not all higher education institutions’ budgets will be reduced by the same amount. Those such as CSN whose enrollments have increased the fastest will make more modest reductions.

In fiscal 2009-10 and 2010-11, CSN is slated to receive 4.9 percent less money from the state than it did this fiscal year — the second smallest cut among the state’s seven public colleges and Desert Research Institute.

The tone of a UNLV town hall meeting last week was also upbeat. The university’s budget cut is “something we can deal with, and that’s the key message,” UNLV President David Ashley told a packed auditorium.

Anticipating deep cuts, UNLV administrators eliminated or left open more than 360 jobs this year, actions that position the university well for the 15.4 percent reduction in state funding it is set to absorb next year.

Nevada State College in Henderson has also prepared for upcoming cuts by abolishing a number of positions — 37 of 162 at the college. NSC is facing the largest percentage cut among all institutions — 24.1 percent.

Nevertheless, administrators had a message for students and employees that, in these dire times, could be considered reassuring.

“We’re just about stretched to the limit, but we can do it without any additional personnel impact, any additional huge operating cuts or anything of that nature,” said Buster Neel, NSC vice president of finance and administration.

•••

This Friday and Saturday, UNLV will host the National Steel Bridge Competition Championship, which will pit student engineers from 48 universities against one another at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Teams are judged on factors including the speed with which they build their bridges and their bridges’ ability to hold loads of more than 2,500 pounds.

The event is free and open to the public. For more information go to www.unlv2009nssbc.com/schedule.html.

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