Final Budget Reductions Recommendations - Fiscal Year 2002 & 2003 Budget Reduction Process

TO: All UNL Faculty and Staff
FROM: Chancellor Harvey Perlman
DATE: November 20, 2002
RE: Final Budget Reductions Recommendations

The 2002 Special Session of the Legislature required the University of Nebraska system to reduce its budget for the 2002-2003 fiscal year for the third time. On September 10, 2002, I made proposals for reducing the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s budget by $7,513,953. This reduction follows two earlier rounds in which the UNL base budget was reduced by $9.8 million. In accordance with “Procedures to be Invoked for Significant Budget Reallocations and Reductions” these proposals were submitted to the Academic Planning Committee, hearings were held to permit an open discussion of the proposals, and, on November 14, 2002, the Academic Planning Committee forwarded to me its final recommendations. I have carefully considered the committee’s recommendations as well as many thoughtful comments and suggestions that I received independently. I have had the opportunity to discuss with the members of the APC their thinking that lay behind their recommendations. This report outlines my response to the APC recommendations and announces my final budget decisions.

I first want to thank the members of the APC who gave extraordinary amounts of time and effort to this process. Although I do not accept all of their recommendations, their report is a thoughtful and helpful document that brought a useful perspective to the process. I also want to thank the many citizens of Nebraska, many of whom were angered or disappointed in my recommendations, but who engaged us in constructive dialog. I wish it were possible to respond to each of their concerns in a positive way.

Responses to the APC recommendations.

1. Division of Continuing Studies. Earlier the Academic Planning Committee accepted my recommendations to close the Division of Continuing Studies and reassign the units of that division. This recommendation was accepted by the Board of Regents and is in the final stages of implementation. The APC’s letter to me and my response are posted on the Web site (see links below).

2. Learning Centers. The APC endorsed the recommendation to withdraw administrative support for the learning centers in Grand Island and North Platte. I affirm that decision. It should be emphasized that UNL plans to continue to provide distance education courses to both areas as demand justifies.

3. West Central Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. The APC recommended against closing the diagnostic laboratory in North Platte and the elimination of the veterinarian at the West Central Research and Extension Center. I regret that I cannot fully accept their recommendation.

A. Diagnostic Laboratory. For reasons that were more fully described when we closed the Scottsbluff diagnostic laboratory, I continue to believe that the animal industry is better served in the long run by focusing limited resources on a single, sophisticated veterinary diagnostic laboratory in Lincoln. I recognize this will not be as convenient for those livestock producers located near Scottsbluff and North Platte. However, with overnight delivery and proposed changes in procedures in Lincoln, I believe the Lincoln facility can provide a reasonable level of service statewide.

The APC based its recommendation in part on testimony expressing concern that elimination of the laboratory in North Platte would increase the state’s vulnerability to bioterrorism. This would, of course, be a serious concern. However, after examining the issue more thoroughly, I remain skeptical that the absence of the laboratory will have any significant adverse affect in this context. The Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources has prepared a background document that offers more detail on this matter. It is posted on the Web site. (See link below.)

B. Extension Veterinarian. The APC recommended retention of the extension veterinarian in North Platte. While I continue to believe that diagnostic services can be provided to clients from the laboratory in Lincoln, there is a separate concern about veterinary extension education. Vice Chancellor Owens has developed an alternative plan that would provide extension education to western Nebraska. Although Dr. Steven Ensley, the current veterinarian in North Platte, will be reassigned to Lincoln, the Cooperative Extension Division will reallocate funds within the division to create a veterinary extension educator position located either in North Platte, Scottsbluff, or at an extension office in western Nebraska. The University’s ability to fill this position will depend on the university’s budget situation going into the next biennium.

4. South Central Research and Extension Center. The APC, while concurring in the recommendation to convert SCREC from an autonomous center to a research laboratory, recommended that the faculty positions, proposed to be reassigned to Lincoln or another research and extension center, be kept in Clay Center. The consequence of the APC’s recommendation would leave the faculty in Clay Center without the secretarial and technical support necessary to successfully conduct their research. I understand that the faculty members regard this diminished support as something that would create a significant risk to their own research and professional advancement. Accordingly I cannot accept the APC’s recommendation.

The closure of SCREC was the most difficult decision to make. Vice Chancellor Owens and I both recognize, and deeply regret, the economic consequences to that community. We are also both sensitive to the important, and in many ways unique role that the region plays as a producer of irrigated corn and the need for interaction with our faculty. Nonetheless, the reduction in our budget does not permit us to continue to maintain the center as it was without eliminating some other important facility elsewhere. The university will continue to operate a research farm at Clay Center and faculty will continue to conduct their research in the area even though housed in other parts of the state. In addition, the university will take the following steps to provide continuing service to producers in the region:

A. Provision will be made to use technology wherever possible to maintain communications between faculty in Lincoln and producers in the South Central region from extension offices in Clay Center, Hastings, Grand Island, Aurora, and Geneva.

B. Telephone conferences and enhanced Website activity will be used to provide regional producers with additional information.

C. Contingent on university funding, a water resources engineer position would be filled in Biological Systems Engineering. This person would have statewide responsibilities with an emphasis on water management needs in the South Central region.

D. Under the direction of the former director of SCREC, a planning effort will be initiated immediately, designed to update the strategic plan of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources in light of the budget reductions incurred during this fiscal year. Special attention will be given to exploring how the cooperate extension division can assure continuing service to the south central region. (See the IANR background report on the Web for more details [link below].)

5. Termination of Tenure-track faculty. One consequence of the closing of the North Platte diagnostic laboratory and the South Central Research and Extension Center was the termination of two tenure-track, but untenured faculty. The APC strongly recommended that, regardless of the outcome of the two programs, the faculty members should be retained. The APC expressed concern that the terminations were not consistent with AAUP or University policies, did not involve review by a faculty committee and were not justified on the basis of their quality of work, would have a chilling effect on probationary faculty, and would create concerns by faculty associated with centers and other “programs” not directly within their tenure homes.

First, let me address the definition of “program” for purposes of program eliminations. The definition is found in our own procedures for budget reductions as well as in Executive Memorandum #24 issued by President Smith. Both the AAUP policies and the Board of Regents bylaws recognize that both tenured and tenure-track faculty can be terminated if their program is eliminated. I also understand that the broad definition of program holds potential for abuse. I addressed this concern in a letter to the chair of the APC earlier this year and I have put that letter on the website. Notwithstanding these issues, I am clear that both the SCREC and the Diagnostic Laboratory are “programs” within this definition and that certainly these untenured faculty members could be terminated accordingly. I recognize that any termination of faculty will cause other faculty concern, just as the termination of staff have caused considerable anxiety among our remaining staff. I wish I could eliminate this anxiety but it is created, unfortunately, by the times in which we find ourselves. Because the decision was based on program elimination, it is difficult to see a clear role for a faculty committee to assess the quality of their work. I am prepared to assume that both professors were productive faculty members.

Nonetheless, I have decided to withdraw the termination of both Professor Ensley and Professor Stack. We had anticipated that Professor Ensley would be offered a non-tenure track, lower paying, existing vacant position in the diagnostic laboratory in Lincoln where his toxicology skills would be valuable. Since that recommendation was made, Vice Chancellor Owens and his staff have developed plans to restructure research activities to extension education activities at the Great Plains Veterinary Education Center at Clay Center which not only enhances the veterinary extension services but also frees funds to provide a tenure track position for Professor Ensley.

Professor Stack will be reassigned to Lincoln in the Plant Pathology Department. As the only plant pathologist currently working on corn diseases, his expertise is important to providing a basis for statewide extension activities in this area of importance to Nebraska. He will be placed on a tenure-leading line and will be eligible for tenure consideration in the ordinary course. His position will be temporarily funded with salary savings and permanently funded by the next vacancy in the Plant Pathology Department.

I can assure the University community that all of us in the administration are pleased that we were able to find ways to utilize (and pay for) the talents and expertise that these faculty members represent and avoid the termination of untenured faculty.

6. Nebraska Council for Economic Education. The APC recommended that some portion of the funding for the council be continued in order to keep this important program functioning. The council is partially funded by state dollars, by a small contribution of the Nebraska Department of Education, and by contributions from the private sector. During the process of exploring both the APC recommendation and suggestions received from the private sector, it appeared that a careful review of the structure and expenditures of the council might create opportunities for its continuation and enhancement with significantly less investment of state resources. Accordingly, I am holding this reduction in abeyance to permit this review to occur and for alternatives to surface. Any potential continuing UNL contribution will be contingent on the university’s budget experience during the next biennium.

7. Recycling Program. A significant portion of the reduction in the Division of Business and Finance resulted in eliminating custodial office pick-up of recyclable paper. Current university policy is that custodians pick up trash once per week and recyclable paper once per week. The proposed reduction would eliminate the recyclable pick-up. The university recycling program, however, would continue, and it was hoped that university personnel would voluntarily bring their recyclables to a site at each building. The APC asked that we consider alternatives. While affirming the reduction, the Division of Business and Finance is prepared to give the residents of each building the option of how to allocate the once per week pick-up. Some buildings may opt to alternate trash and recyclable pick-ups.

8. Other recommendations. The APC endorsed the remaining proposed reductions in Business and Finance, Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, and the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. I affirm those reductions.

None of these decisions came easily. They all impact adversely the university, and, in my view, the state of Nebraska. They represent our efforts to find the least worst alternative, consistent with our priorities. Our priorities are clear: To protect the future of the state of Nebraska by creating a university that will retain the state’s young people and will attract young people from elsewhere; to contribute to the future economic prosperity of Nebraska and its quality of life by enhancing our research and creative activity and by using our educational resources to serve the people throughout Nebraska. It should be clear, however, that the university cannot continue business as usual and still reduce its budget by more than $16 million.

We have, in this process, lost valuable employees whose lives have been tragically disrupted. We also have been forced to disappoint many friends and supporters of the university who depended on the services we can no longer provide. We have done our best to minimize the damage but damage has been done. It bears repeating that this was not of our choosing. We continue to believe the future of this state depends on a strong university and that further erosion of our budget will do incalculable damage, not only to the university, but to the long-term prospects for the state of Nebraska.