Monday, February 14, 2011

Why is Dale Erquiaga playing politics with Nevada's future?

Dale Erquiaga is Senior Advisor to Governor Sandoval and, by all accounts, the Governor's leading policy advisor. He's widely concerned among the most knowledgeable people in the state on many policy questions.

So its baffling why on several different occasions, he's made statements that seem to imply 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, he's 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 Sandoval's budget will cut from NSHE in 2011-2013.

But then there's the history -- he seems to be patently and deliberately ignoring the reality that student fees have already been increased substantially since 2007 (on average 48% for undergraduates and 56% for graduates at UNLV) and that faculty have already sustained

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.

So why is Dale Erquiaga trying to pit the rest of the state workforce, including NSHE classified staff, against faculty? He's repeatedly implied, or outright stated, that the faculty have not had pay cuts.

To this point, I've presumed that he -- although UNR-educated -- was making the same mistake that I've heard others make, presuming that all faculty are "tenured" and presuming that this is the result of a collective bargaining contract. Neither are true, of course.

But today it became clear that Erquiaga is playing politics and cynically trying to stir up animosity against faculty even among our co-workers. In response to an AFSCME rally protesting the unfairness of cutting public service worker pay and benefits by double-digit percentages to protect industries that pay less than 1% of proceeds in taxes
Erquiaga explicitly encouraged AFSCME members to blame faculty:

Erquiaga also noted that Sandoval is seeking the same 5 percent cut for public school teachers and university faculty as part of his “shared sacrifice,” although it will be up to school district boards and the Board of Regents to decide whether to implement such reductions.

“You can’t ask state employees to carry it all and have university faculty take none,” he said. “I think the state employees would agree with that.”

Erquiaga seems not only unconcerned with the reality that government dictates can't control a free-market world cutting pay will make NV less competitive in the national and international market for academic instructors and researchers.

Don't even take just our word for it about how these cuts will diminish Nevada's competitive position.

Listen to the AAUP's annual survey and the LV Chamber of Commerce's survey of compensation:

The American Association of Univ Professors annual data for 2009 shows our universities pay in the third quintile (ie 40th to 59th percentile of public universities nationally); the LV Chamber of Commerce in 2008 found our compensation to be only about 80% of the national average for all higher ed workers and only 95% of the national average for instructional faculty. And our benefits amount to only 21% of our total compensation, versus 28% national average. (With total compensation just below the national average, this means our benefits are worth about 75% of national average for higher ed faculty.)

Those statistics were gathered before the first round of 4.6% pay cuts, which the state took on all faculty salaries (including tenured), and before the first round of cuts in health benefits, worth about 7% reduction in total compensation.

The numbers don't lie; we are losing our competitive position in the market. The evidence is that retention rates are declining; more faculty are being recruited to go elsewhere and while in the past we would retain on average 2 of every 3 faculty who got an outside offer, that is down to 1 in 3 last year.

Listen to Neal Smatresk, Republican businessman and Regent Michael Wixom on the "real dollars being lost in real time" as research grants leave the state.

Listen to 18 Governors in other low-tax, conservative states like Idaho, Utah, Texas, Louisiana, Virginia, Florida, New Jersey and Arizona, all of which have Republican Governors who have avoided cutting, or even increased spending, for higher education as a strategy to counter the recession.

Nevada, quite simply, is losing its ability to compete with those states as it loses its competitive position in higher education.

Blaming tenured faculty may well play well with the base of support that the Governor's political handlers are presumably worried about. But its really unworthy of a top policy analyst.

The state's situation is dire enough. The needs for shares sacrifice is real. Its time the Governor saluted those of us making it.

Lets hope the Chancellor takes the opportunity to set the record straight at Wednesday's Education committee hearing.

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