Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why are Faculty upset about a potential declaration of financial exigency at UNLV

Tuesday UNLV President Smatresk announced that he had taken the first formal steps towards a declaration of financial exigency. This was a dramatic announcement, already reported in national press as a “financial collapse” of higher education in Nevada.

Exigency is, as a legal concept, not very well defined in either statute or case law. The American Association of University Professors (NFA’s parent organization) has a widely respected set of recommended best practices.

Significantly, many of the provisions in the AAUP recommendations are codified in the UNLV by-laws and the NSHE Code.

Exigency is also an exceedingly rare development, especially for a large public university. To the best of my knowledge, UNLV is the only major public university in the United States now preparing for a declaration of exigency. Exigency is equivalent in many respects to a declaration of bankruptcy for an academic institution -- though an internal declaration that does not seek or provide any protection against creditors outside the university. Instead, it is a form of seeking relief from internal creditors -- ie, faculty and staff.

In other words, it is the legal basis for dissolving rights and protections in the NSHE Code. This includes faculty protection against changes in employment status (up to and including termination. It also provides no protection to students that programs in which they are currently enrolled will be maintained until completion of degree.

It was precisely to help avert such a measure that faculty supported an amendment to the NSHE Code in 2009 for tenured faculty to take on additional workloads without compensation. It was to averts such a measure that we supported another amendment to the NSHE Code sought by the Chancellor and enacted last spring to pass through a legislatively mandated across-the-board pay cut. And it was to help avert such a measure last spring that faculty leaders on both university campuses participated in program review exercises that led to terminations of programs and academic faculty including tenured faculty. These were considerable sacrifices by faculty, appropriate to the state’s situation over the past three years.

In this context, I would like to address a frequently repeated misconception that the state's budget crisis, and more specifically the catastrophic cuts that are being proposed for higher education, could be readily absorbed by simply raising student fees and cutting faculty salaries.

First, that assertion is wrong on the math -- student fees would have to be increased about 80% or faculty salaries cut about 60% to cover the $169 million that Gov. Sandoval's budget will cut from NSHE in 2011-2013.

But then there's the history -- student fees have already been increased substantially since 2007 (on average 48% for undergraduates and 56% for graduates at UNLV). And, faculty have already sustained
• pay freezes for four years (while regional CPI has increased over 4%)
• cuts to health care averaging 7% of total compensation
• furloughs and pay cuts (4.6% reduction in total state payroll allocation for NSHE in the current biennium and hard-dollar pay reductions for all professional staff, untenured faculty and administrators in FY2011)
• workload increases for tenured faculty, through additional courses and larger courses
• ... and as noted, faculty leadership already agreed last spring to authorize the Board to pass through a legislative pay cut to all faculty and staff.

In short, we have embodied the "shared sacrifice" the Governor has called for. We have done extra work, been paid less, and stepped forward to agree to be paid even less in the coming biennium.

This context should help readers understand the significant and dramatic news of yesterday and why faculty are so saddened, and truly angered, to be facing the almost unprecedented prospect of a financial exigency in the coming months. (An exigency has only been declared in Nevada once before, in 1977, for one unit in the Community College of Southern Nevada.)

The cost in terms of lost programs, lost student opportunities, lost faculty and above all the national signal of a loss of investment in Nevada would be felt in this state for generations to come.


  1. Only five days ago, on page 1 of the RJ, Smatresk is quoted as feeling so good because the BOR gave their OK to build a 40,000-seat domed stadium on the UNLV campus. Hello, what is wrong here? If we aren't smart enough to do some creative accounting and put the money for a sports complex into saving academic programs and faculty then we deserve what we get.

  2. The stadium deal depends/depended on private money, so no can do...but to acknowledge Judy's point, I think Smatresk should've seen an obvious PR debacle coming re. the timing of stadium deal/financial exigency. I can't tell you how many people have been pointing out the coincidence in terms highly unfavorably to UNLV.

  3. There is first of all real reason to doubt that there is genuine basis for a declaration of financial exigency. To be certain, a full financial analysis of UNLV's status will be required. I expect the national AAUP will assist the NFA in accomplishing that goal. UNLV has historically had significant cash reserves; we will need current information.
    Simply releasing tenured faculty, moreover, is unacceptable. Even when programs are closed, a very aggressive effort needs to be made to find an alternative department for a tenured faculty member. That is not only necessary employment practice under AAUP policy; it is also critical to preserving intellectual breadth and diversity on campus. Program closure, moreover, needs benefit the educational mission; it is not justifiable for financial reasons. To that end, organized faculty input is essential.
    We face a struggle over the future of higher education in Nevada. The national AAUP will be your partner in that struggle.

    Cary Nelson, AAUP President

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