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September 2, 2014

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Budget crunch at UNLV results in … pay raises?

Streamlining administrative work calls for influx of $500,000

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UNLV President Neal Smatresk will meet with the Faculty Senate about some administrative pay raises.

Beyond the Sun

UNLV is spending about $500,000 on raises and new positions for nonteaching administrators, raising hackles among faculty facing unpaid furloughs and support staff who have seen their ranks thinned by layoffs.

On paper it might appear to be reckless spending by UNLV, given that the university’s financial outlook is clouded by a 15.4 percent cut in state funding with more reductions likely.

But put in context, the money spent on administrative positions represents a move toward better business practices and, in the long, run, improved fiscal responsibility, says university President Neal Smatresk.

That’s the case he intends to make today to members of the Faculty Senate, who have asked him to explain some of the recent allocations for pay increases.

Because of state budget cutbacks, UNLV’s student affairs unit was required to cut $1.2 million — about 10 percent — from its budget.

But in shifting around even the more limited funding — with results that appear as pay raises for some — Smatresk says UNLV is streamlining the process in which students are enrolled and get financial aid, two areas where the university was badly slumping.

Smoothing the mechanics of enrollment was accomplished by creating the position of executive director of enrollment technology, at a base salary of $110,000, and by adding responsibilities to the director of student financial services, with an accompanying $18,800 pay raise to bring his salary to $115,000.

As a result, admissions processing is down to 10 days, compared with the three months it had been taking, and it isn’t a coincidence that UNLV’s new freshman class is the largest on record, Smatresk said. Financial aid is now “bundled and out the door” over the summer before the students even arrive, Smatresk said, when in previous years it might have been halfway through the first semester before the paperwork was finalized.

The raises and new positions for student affairs caught the eye of chemistry professor Bryan Spangelo, who was reviewing cost-cutting proposals submitted by each unit to the university’s Joint Evaluation Team, of which he is a member.

In addition to the new positions, current employees in the student affairs unit are benefiting from about $90,000 in raises, Spangelo said. The news “has caused some angst in a lot of people,” given that faculty is facing a 4.6 percent decrease in pay or the equivalent in furlough days, Spangelo said.

“There is no other unit on campus enjoying this kind of influx,” said Spangelo, a Faculty Senate member who has been at UNLV for 15 years. “There needs to be a well-defined and defensible argument for these increases at this time.”

Professor John Filler, chairman of the Faculty Senate, said he hopes Smatresk’s explanations will be sufficient to silence his critics. It’s possible for individuals to receive raises and for there still to be an overall cost-savings to the university, Filler said.

“If you eliminate two positions that had cost $100,000, and give someone a $20,000 bump to do the work, that’s considered to be fiscal responsibility,” said Filler, who teaches in the College of Education. “But on paper it would only show up as one person getting a pretty big raise.”

Without the proper context, news of such raises can be alarming, Filler acknowledged. He intends to ask the Faculty Senate to consider requesting that it be notified of such plans ahead of time, “and give everybody a chance to see what is the truth.”

And that raises another issue for the relatively young Smatresk administration: To what degree should he engage the faculty for input on budget adjustments that fall within his purview?

Smatresk said he’s happy to discuss — and justify — the decisions in any public forum. He noted that there is already faculty representation on a committee set up to review exceptions to the hiring freeze and he would support sharing more information with it.

However, “When you’re cutting and asking people to do a lot more with less, you have to give your line officers the freedom to consolidate and reallocate,” Smatresk said. “I’m not sure we need to have every single position go through the Faculty Senate.”

Although the university’s governance structure doesn’t require Smatresk to get the Faculty Senate’s approval for such decisions, Spangelo said he hopes this situation might provide the impetus to at least “get some new lines of communication up and running.”

Juanita Fain, UNLV’s vice president of student affairs, said she realizes the money being spent on jobs in her division has some people “very worked up. I’m sensitive to that.”

At the same time, “you still have to do business, and enrollment management is the university’s bread and butter,” Fain said. “We have to at least maintain enrollment, and hopefully increase it. Along the way we have to provide better services to students, faculty and staff.”

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