President provides update on institution, outlines goals

During the State of the University address held on September 13, President Neal Smatresk and several members of his cabinet said that UNLV is moving forward after years of enduring drastic budget cuts.

Smatresk and his fellow executive administrators spoke confidently about UNLV’s ability to make significant strides to reach its full potential despite the economic challenges the campus community has faced.

“We’re not out here for the first time in four years talking about cuts and survival,” Smatresk said. “We’re talking about how we’re going to move this university forward.”

UNLV lost approximately 700 faculty and staff during the last four fiscal years as a result of a $73 million cut in state support during that time period.

But Smatresk asserted that the UNLV community can put behind such turmoil, highlighting several of the university’s accomplishments in the past year despite its economic woes.

“I’m here to tell you today that our budget is stable,” Smatresk said. “We are on firm, fiscal and financial ground.”

Smatresk pointed out UNLV’s economic contribution to the state of Nevada.

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He drew on data from a UNLV Center for Business and Economic Research report to counter possible viewpoints by Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development executive director Steve Hill and state legislators that the university provides little economic returns to the state.

“Our state traditionally views the university and the higher education of our citizens as a cost,” Smatresk said.

He said that according to the report, UNLV added about $1.5 billion to Nevada’s economy last year, detailing that employees, students and visitors directly contributed $913 million to the state in 2011.

“For every dollar that the state spends on UNLV, they can expect a return of $8,” Smatresk said. “So Steve Hill, our governor and our legislatures, I submit to you that UNLV is not a cost. UNLV is an investment and you should start investing deeply now.”

Smatresk also drew attention to UNLV’s other accomplishments, stating that the university is welcoming 78 new faculty members this year.

“We had an incredible hiring season,” Smatresk said. “We brought in a variety of new faculty and staff.”

The president spoke about changes the university will be implementing for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 as well.

Smatresk said that starting in Fall 2013, SAT and ACT will be one of the requirements for admission to UNLV, a new policy approved by the board of regents in March, which also applies to University of Nevada, Reno.

He said that a first-year program has been launched this semester, aimed at providing freshman students with a more “rigorous curriculum.”

The program, also referred to as the first-year seminar, was approved by the Faculty Senate last year after eight years in development. It is designed to help freshmen learn basic skills necessary to have a successful university career.

“This is, to me, one of the highlights of what we’re doing this year,” Smatresk said.

He also addressed concerns about faculty and staff health benefits, stressing that quality health benefits is vital in attracting and maintaining faculty.

“We need to first and foremost work hard this year in the legislative session with our governor and legislature to restore benefits,” Smatresk said. “There isn’t a regents meeting in which we don’t mention this topic and work with legislatures on this topic.”

In July 2011, changes were made to the health plans offered by the Public Employees’ Benefits Program, resulting in significant increases in premiums and deductibles.

Senior vice president for finance and business Gerry Bomotti, who also chairs the PEBP task force that is seeking to mitigate the negative effects of the health plan changes, said that alternatives to the plans will be presented soon.

Smatresk said that a faculty health clinic in the Student Recreation and Wellness Center will open on Monday to help faculty and staff affected by poor health benefits.

The clinic, similar to minute-clinics in local drug stores, will help faculty and staff overcome health issues like the flu.

“This will be an opportunity for you to take care of things in a very inexpensive and timely fashion,” Smatresk said.

Additionally, the president spoke about the ongoing process of changing the current funding formula, infamous for its complexity and for its policy that funds generated at higher education institutions be funneled to the state instead of staying at the institutions.

“Our funding formula has been deeply inequitable,” Smatresk said. “The new funding formula establishes close equity between research institutions and our community colleges. I strongly support this.”

He touched on the initiative to change the master plan, which is a blueprint for expanding the university, but stressed that the plan must benefit both students and faculty positively.

This year, the master plan focuses on UNLVNow — the construction of a new stadium that will seat up to 60,000 people.

Smatresk added that the university is continuing its efforts pertaining to iNtegrate 2, an initiative aimed at the campus community’s technological aspects.

“[We want] to place new business processes and IT support into the university community,” Smatresk said, “so that we’re more efficient and more effective with how we use our resources and the time of our people.”

Interim vice president for Research and graduate college dean Thomas Piechota also spoke about an initiative — Collaborative, Research and Education — with the goal of achieving excellence in research and education.

“It’s about expanding our research experience for our faculty and students,” Piechota said, “and it’s also about at the end of the day, extending collaborations.”

Executive vice president and provost John Valery White spoke of a similar vision, stating that producing useful and meaningful research starts at the college level.

“We want to know what you need,” White said. “We need your input and we need to start now.”

Smatresk ended the address with a call for the campus community to band together in making UNLV a first-choice university.

“I need your help,” Smatresk said. “We all need your help. Inspire and encourage everyone around you to own the vision and work hard toward implementing [it].”

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