Delicate Questions 

University president talks budget with near-capacity crowd

Delicate Questions

Photo by Amy Adler

Just as certain programs within the university make a push to go green, the campus as a whole could be requiring some more green from Carson City.

UNLV President David B. Ashley answered questions regarding higher education in the Marjorie Barrick Museum Auditorium yesterday during the president’s latest town hall meeting.

“It has been a while since we’ve had an opportunity to get together,” he said to the near-capacity audience.

Ashley provided updates on the status of the legislation for funding higher education, commending efforts by speakers who spoke on behalf of Nevada’s higher education institutions at two joint legislative hearings on the budget earlier this month.

“That had a huge impact,” he said, adding that speakers gave “very compelling testimony” to put a face on the budget cuts.

With another hearing scheduled for Friday— this one expected to focus on deliberation as opposed to comment— Ashley is certain that the legislature is ready to “come up with what we’re all eager to hear.”

Ashley anticipates that the legislature should have a proposed budget on Gov. Jim Gibbons’ desk by May 1.

“Having been through six months of uncertainty, I have two impressions: One is we’re almost at the point where we’re going to know the number we’re going to deal with and be able to put plans in place,” Ashley said.

“And this is a personal belief, but I am optimistic— more optimistic than I’ve been any time— that what comes out will be something that we can deal with.”

Ashley portrayed the sentiment toward higher education within the legislature as supportive.

“They really do understand higher education,” he said.

Faculty Senate Chair Nasser Daneshvary shared Ashley’s optimism, being particularly touched by the manner in which students have reacted against the cuts.

Daneshvary said people expected students to ask that their low tuition be protected, but “99 percent of the statements they make [regarding cuts to UNLV] are, ‘Don’t harm education, today or tomorrow.’”

Daneshvary was confident that even in a worst-case scenario, the university would make efforts to limit the impact of budget cuts on the campus.

Ashley addressed differences in funding between schools in Northern Nevada and Southern Nevada. 

“Right now, the research universities are not funded for being research universities,” he said.

Ashley also spoke on the matter of accreditation, which could be affected by funding cuts.

Ashley, along with the other Nevada System of Education institution presidents, were asked to write letters to Chancellor Jim Rogers about the upcoming accreditation process, as part of his series of weekly news briefs.

“That’s a very delicate question,” Ashley said to the request. “We’re a young university… Many of our degree programs have been recently accredited.”

He added, “It would send a bad signal to say we’re at risk of losing accreditation.”

Ashley did not firmly state whether any specific university programs are at risk of losing accreditation, but did speak on the importance of maintaining programs and full-time faculty to keep the university’s accreditation.

“A sustained loss of resources would have an impact,” he said.

Ashley addressed the federal stimulus package, which could help the state fund education. Questions were raised as to whether or not the state legislature would be able to override the governor should he decide not to accept stimulus funds.

According to Ashley, legislators have looked into ways to override the governor’s decision, which could work in the university’s favor.

“The [legislative] leadership does not want to lose stimulus money,” he said.

For this funding to apply to UNLV, state-provided funds would have to be restored to 2006 levels, a task which is left up to the legislature’s budget.

An audience member asked whether Nevada’s state leadership could turn the state around from “spiraling down” or whether current legislative efforts would only affect the next two years.

“I think we can get this,” Ashley responded. “[Some legislators] see this as an opportunity to change the culture in the state, for education.”