Bounds names team to cut costs in system operations

Bounds names team to cut costs in system operations

Hank Bounds

Hank Bounds, president of the University of Nebraska system, has created a cost-cutting Budget Response Team that will consider a range of options as the university faces likely budget challenges.

The work of the team, outlined by Bounds in a Jan. 27 presentation to the Board of Regents, will span 10 areas of key university operations and engage nearly 100 subject-matter experts from within and outside the university. Each area will be represented by a task force charged with identifying strategies for meaningful cuts -- or in some cases revenue growth -- while advancing university-wide goals for collaboration and outstanding service to students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders.

Bounds said the Budget Response Team is necessitated by the state’s current fiscal challenges and likely impact on the university system's $945 million operating budget, which is funded by state appropriations and tuition revenue. The two-year state budget package proposed by Gov. Pete Ricketts, combined with unavoidable cost increases facing the university like salaries and health insurance, could result in a budget gap north of $50 million for the university by summer 2019.

While the Appropriations Committee and full Legislature still have to consider the state budget, Bounds said the university system must take steps now to permanently reduce costs, given that even flat state funding in the next two years would require it to make tens of millions of dollars’ worth of cuts.

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Bounds will discuss the budget in two Jan. 31 open forum sessions at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. The sessions, both in the Nebraska Union Auditorium, are at 8 a.m. for staff and 9:15 a.m. for faculty. The sessions will be live-streamed online.

The Budget Response Team’s focus on operations reflects the university system's two fundamental commitments for navigating the economic downturn — protecting its academic enterprise and remaining affordable for students and families.

“We have hard choices ahead,” Bounds said. “Efficiencies alone will not solve this challenge. The University of Nebraska is a lean institution already and this process will impact people, positions and services across our campuses. There is no question that cuts put at risk our statewide presence and our unique role as a driver of economic growth in the state.

“I also believe that we must use this budgetary challenge as an opportunity to become an even more collaborative and forward-thinking university. The Budget Response Team has a difficult task but I’m confident its members will identify creative ideas for positioning university operations for the future.”

Areas that Budget Response Team task forces will focus on include: information technology; facilities management; financial operations and accounting; human resources and payroll; public relations, communications and marketing; procurement; printing and copying; energy; digital education; and travel.

The task forces will deliver saving strategies in the spring to a system-wide steering committee, chaired by Provost Susan Fritz and the system's chief strategist, James Linder. The steering committee will deliver final recommendations to Bounds and the chancellors for consideration.

Bounds noted that any cut to the system's state appropriation would be exacerbated by funding trends over time. State funding to the system has grown at a much smaller rate than to other state agencies and slower than state spending overall. Also, the system represents a smaller share of the state budget -- 13 percent today, compared to 21 percent three decades ago.

Despite those trends, the NU system has built momentum in growing enrollment to meet the state's workforce needs, expanding its research enterprise, and sustaining the state’s economy and quality of life. The work of faculty and staff help grow the state's economy by $3.9 billion annually -- a 6-to-1 return on taxpayers’ investment.

“This economic downturn will end,” Bounds said. “And when it does, we want to be certain we’ve done everything possible to maintain our impact, preserve our quality and keep moving forward on the important work of growing the economy and transforming lives in Nebraska and around the world.”

More detailed information on budget planning is available online.