Fiscal deficit: Difficult cuts to an already lean University of Nebraska budget

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Jarred Kennedy

As the Nebraska University system budget deficit and impending cuts loom over-head, students and faculty can do little more than wait and see what happens. Nebraska University president Hank Bounds released a statement last week updating students and staff on the “university wide” approach being taken in making important budget decisions. As forces gather to make important fiscal decisions, students, faculty, and other staff in the university system are left with questions and concerns for what is to come.

University of Nebraska at Omaha journalism student Avery Wenck said there is no way these budget cuts won’t affect the academic integrity of the university. He said classes are already in short supply and he worries about how it could get even worse.

“Seniors like myself are not able to get into certain classes because as soon as it opens up it’s full and we just can’t get in,” Wenck said.

In a release last week, Bounds promised he and other decision makers would do everything possible to protect the academic integrity of the University of Nebraska. He eluded to the notion that these are not likely to be comfortable adjustments.

“Even as I am optimistic that we will generate new ideas for collaboration and innovation, there is no question that this process will impact people, positions and services across our university,” Bounds said. “We’re not talking about efficiencies. We’re talking about cuts.”

Professor and Director of the UNO School of Communication Hugh Reilly said due to being light on staff he and other faculty have voluntarily reduced their research commitments in order to be more available to teach classes. It is a tough sacrifice, but he said it is necessary.

“I understand the reality of it is that we are between a rock and a hard place and they (high level fiscal decision makers) can’t continue to do things the way they were doing them,” Reilly said.

In an interview with the Omaha World-Herald, Bounds said the fiscal situation at UNO is more tenuous than other University of Nebraska campuses.

“UNO does have that slim margin, and it will be compounded by the fact that we’re about to see reduced state allocations,” he told the Omaha World-Herald. “This is really about incurring new costs.”

UNO Chemistry Department Chair Richard Lomneth speculates some departments may be safer than others when it comes to budget cuts. For example departments classified under a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) field may fare better comparatively given that STEM is a campus priority.

“I am hopeful that a majority of programs and positions on campus, not just our department but everywhere, will be maintained,” Lomneth said. “We have to do our best because quality programs attract quality students—I think the administration recognizes that.”

Joe Kaminski, UNO director of campus recreation, said he has been through several budget deficits before. Kaminksi is thankful that most of his programs are funded by student fees, rather than state revenue. This sentiment is also shared by Lomneth who noted that, in the UNO Chemistry Department, many of the more expensive items such as small equipment and chemicals are covered by student lab fees.

Bounds also disseminated some more specific information last week about how some of these tough fiscal decisions will be made.

“We are creating a Budget Response Team that will be asked to rethink University of Nebraska operations,” Bounds said. “The Budget Response Team is divided into 10 task forces, each charged with reducing costs or growing revenue in one of the following areas: IT, facilities, financial operations, human resources, communications, procurement, printing and copying, energy, digital education and travel.”

Bounds said he shares the collective worry of university members, but also added Nebraska has weathered worse economic storms and has never failed to support its university in the past 150 years.

“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.”

The budgets at all three campuses are already lean, Bounds said, so it is a daunting task—but the best any affected by these cuts can do is wait and see. As of now the real impact has yet to be felt from this nearly $50 million deficit.


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