The last 10 days at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have been challenging for all of us, forcing us to ask serious questions about the values and principles of our community, while at the same time facing head-on the reality that debilitating proposed cuts in state funding challenge the academic integrity and critical role Nebraska’s flagship land-grant university plays in the future of our state and greater world. The governor’s proposed cuts total $5 million for the university in our current budget year, and more importantly, a permanent 4 percent reduction totaling $11.5 million beginning on July 1.
On Monday, I met with colleagues who would be directly affected by some of these potential cuts, at this point in seven different academic programs across campus. This was particularly difficult because these are all extraordinary academic scholars and are supported by professional staff members who care deeply and have contributed immensely to the quality and excellence of the university. They rightfully expressed their individual and collective disbelief that their commitment to our students and their learning, and the value of their academic disciplines, could be considered as “dispensable” by the people of Nebraska. While these are only potential proposals at this point and would require full review and evaluation by our shared governance process through the Academic Planning Committee if they become a necessity, this is serious business to be at the point of needing to publicly say this is a possibility.
Two days later, I was at the Capitol for most of the day listening carefully to so many who were present to voice their concerns for such drastic reductions to the university’s scope. Wednesday’s hearing on the budget was the beginning of a period that will be so critical to the future of our university. I fully recognize that these proposed cuts are not just numbers on a spreadsheet but people’s careers, passions and livelihoods. For many students, these cuts will limit access to and increase costs of education, curtailing their hopes and dreams. Unfortunately, the cuts outlined on Monday will be just the tip of the iceberg if the current budget becomes law. Job number one is restoring our level of state-appropriated funding.
The process now will follow the Nebraska Legislature’s calendar. Late this month, the state’s revenue forecasting board will provide its next report to the Legislature. We are hopeful it will reflect an improved outlook compared to the past several reports. Then in early March, the Appropriations Committee will deliver its recommendation to the full Legislature for consideration.
In the coming weeks, I will be traveling across our state, visiting with citizens, business and civic leaders, legislators, alumni and parents fighting for this university, for our current and future students, for our programs and for our faculty and staff. I was so proud and grateful to see so many supporters – particularly our students – but also faculty, alumni and the business community supporting the university at the Capitol on Wednesday, and for the hundreds upon hundreds who have spoken out through contacts to legislators. Thank you for your efforts. Now we need to do more and we have to work together. Each of us has a critical role to play, to speak with our friends and family, to reach out to our local representatives, and to share stories about what this university means to you and how critically important it is to the future of Nebraska.
Soon, we will be announcing more details regarding Advocacy Day on March 6, when all students, faculty, staff, friends and alumni will be invited to visit and speak with their senators at the Capitol to show that our voices count and that we are taxpayers and voters, too. That this university, which will be celebrating its 150th anniversary on February 15, 2019, is integral to the fabric of the state, is a critical driver of its economic growth and opportunity, and is fundamentally an investment in the future.
At literally the same time as so many members of our community were at the Capitol fighting to restore the university’s budget, still more – in fact 1,500 students, faculty and staff – participated in the student-led “Hate Will Never Win” rally on campus. It was positive and peaceful, and left no doubt of the university community’s clear rejection of hate, racism and bigotry in all forms – fundamental values we must never compromise at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. As I have said repeatedly over the past two weeks, we stand firmly against hate-inspired activity in all forms and cannot allow such distractions to make us lose our way as a place of higher learning and civic discourse.
There is no doubt that this is a difficult time for our university and our community. It also is a period when I’ve been tremendously proud of our community – when as a university we are standing up and fighting back against these proposed cuts, when our Husker student athletes and other student groups and leaders loudly proclaimed that “Hate Will Never Win,” and when our faculty and staff have shown tremendous resolve in standing up against hateful rhetoric and courageous leadership, mentorship, and caring for our students. These issues could do permanent damage to our university community and need to be fought with passion, steely resolve and commitment.
One thing I know – we are stronger when we stand together. That is the Nebraska I know, the institution that granted me and all of my family educational opportunity, and the university I love and am fighting for every day to be stronger, increasingly impactful, and focused on making the world a better place. Last April, I used the analogy that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is effectively the “DNA of Nebraska” – that metaphor fits even better almost a year later.
Thank you all for your commitment to your university.