Proposed cuts to the state budget have University of Nebraska officials considering options that “could change the face of the university.”
In a Jan. 16 message, Hank Bounds, president of the University of Nebraska system, outlined how a state budget proposal released last week by Gov. Pete Ricketts would reduce university funding by $11 million in the current year and an additional $23 million in 2019.
“The governor is asking us to shoulder one-third of his proposed cuts, despite the fact that we comprise only 13 percent of the state’s total budget,” Bounds said. “These cuts, which come on top of reductions we took last year, would add significantly to a recurring budgetary challenge that we had planned to address with a combination of spending cuts identified by our budget response teams and two years of tuition increases.”
The proposed cuts are not final. The Nebraska Legislature’s Appropriations Committee is currently considering the plan before it advances to the full legislature for deliberation.
“The highest priority for the chancellors and me in the months ahead will be doing everything we can to lessen our cuts and the impact on our students, faculty and citizens we serve,” Bounds said. “Given the state’s ongoing fiscal challenges, however, the reality is that we will take a cut of some amount.”
Bounds said he has met with chancellors and chief business and academic officers to discuss the best path forward for the NU system. And, Bounds has asked campus leadership teams and his cabinet at Varner Hall to initiate a process for making reductions.
“It is clear we cannot wait to plan for additional cuts,” Bounds said. “We have extremely difficult decisions to make, and a short runway on which to make them.”
In the message, Bounds said the governor’s proposed reductions coupled with inevitable increases through health insurance and collective bargaining, will force the NU system to consider options that could change the face of the university. Those changes include eliminating academic programs, eliminating jobs, restructuring, reducing the university’s statewide presence, and significant tuition increases.
“The heartache for me is that we are facing these choices at a time when the work you do has never been more important to the future of our state and its people,” Bounds said in the message to faculty and staff. “Nebraska needs its university, and your vital contributions to our teaching, research and outreach missions, more than ever. And, every day, I hear from Nebraskans who feel the same.”
Bounds said those conversations confirm his belief that the NU system can be a key player in helping Nebraska out of its current budgetary challenges.
“We are in a remarkable position to join with our partners to continue transforming the lives of students and people here and around the world,” Bounds said. “As I will remind policymakers, however, we cannot do that unless the state decides that affordable, excellent higher education is a priority for Nebraska.”