Current Budget Issues - FY 2003-04 & 2004-05 Budget Reduction Process

Current Budget Issues
FEBRUARY 28, 2003

Harvey Perlman, Chancellor
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Chancellor Perlman has invited inquiries regarding current budget issues from the campus community (email), to which he will respond periodically.

Dear Colleagues:

I thought I should begin again a series of communications to keep you informed about the situation with our budget and the procedures we intend to utilize to respond to any reduction that may be imposed. It is particularly disheartening to focus again on reductions when so much is going well across the University. The recent recognition of our Math Department by Carnegie, the very interesting plans for the summer creative writing workshop, the continued success on achieving federal grants and earmarks, the increase in applications with clear evidence that we are positioned to keep more of Nebraska's young people at home, and so many other achievements, large and small, make it imperative that we work hard and smart to sustain our momentum, even as we respond to these new budget challenges. As I have said in other venues, it will take the best from all of us to get this done.

The current challenge is in many ways staggering. The Governor's recommendation would require UNL to reduce its base budget by $21 million. The Appropriations Committee, in its current recommendation, has restored some funds and if approved would reduce our target to about $15 million. And of course, the state continues to face a shortfall so that nothing will be certain until late May or early June. Our contractual obligations make it very difficult to reduce budgets instantly and so we will face again both the challenge of a base budget reduction as well as cash flowing whatever reduction we receive. As you know from some of the painful cuts we were forced to take last year, there are no easy reductions left to make. Anything and everything I propose will be felt across the campus, will adversely affect some valuable programs, and more significantly, some valuable colleagues. We will search for creative and humane ways to moderate the blow. I remain committed to the overriding principle that reductions must be done in such a way as to preserve, to the degree we can, a strong, vital University for the state of Nebraska.

The time for announcing some reductions fast approaches. President Smith wants to make some early announcements on or before March 10th when he appears before the Appropriations Committee. Accordingly, I will be making public some of my proposals on that date. Additional proposals will be made on or around April 1. My intention is to give the Legislature some understanding of what reductions of the magnitude being discussed will have on its University. A final round of proposals, if necessary, will come after June 2 when the Legislature adjourns.

Again, these next few weeks will not be the most pleasant or constructive times many of us have spent at this University. I will certainly remain open to your comments and criticisms and ideas as we move through this. We also cannot forget that we will still have students who deserve our best efforts in and outside the classrooms, research obligations for which we will be held accountable, and clients, throughout Nebraska, who need our best advice as they struggle with a difficult economic situation made more agonizing by the drought and a possible war. The curse of "living in interesting times" is fully upon us.

You may be thinking I have lost my mind in seeking to purchase the Textron property during these difficult times. We can never lose sight of the fact that there will be a University here when this economic nightmare is over and we must continue to look to the future. The Textron property is the only land I can see in the foreseeable future that would be available to this campus for its space needs. We are running out of land for buildings, for parking, for recreation and to acquire from 14 to 20 acres adjacent to the campus is an opportunity we must not let pass by. Fortunately, we have funds available for the purchase that are restricted and could not be used to reduce our other budget problems. We have some funds available from the Antelope Valley Project that must be used to replace land lost to that project and we have some major donors who are prepared to provide us with funds specifically to acquire the property. I know this could not be worse timing for a variety of reasons but I felt I had to act to protect our long term interests.

I also wanted to make quick mention of the recent BIG RED ROAD SHOW that our Office of Admissions hosted at the Civic Auditorium in Omaha last Sunday. On a cold, snowy day nearly 1500 prospective students and their families turned out to see, and interact with, over 70 displays and demonstrations from our departments throughout the UNL campus. It is critically important that we improve our recruitment of Omaha students and events like this demonstrate what working together we can accomplish. Many thanks to all of the faculty and staff who went the extra mile to make this such a great success, and to Alan Cerveny and his staff for their successful efforts in bringing the UNL message to the Omaha metro area.

Thanks, as always, to the many of you who continue to offer your support and to all of you who continue to work, in the most trying of circumstances, on behalf of the constituents we serve.