January 27, 2017
Over the past few months I have written to you about the state’s fiscal challenges and their likely impact on the University of Nebraska. While state leaders are in the early stages of building a two-year budget package, we are clearly navigating a difficult period. Even flat funding to the university would require us to make tens of millions of dollars in cuts, given our unavoidable rising costs and our commitment to remaining affordable for students and families.
The chancellors and I have been working for some time on a university-wide approach for managing budget reductions. Today I want to share those plans with you.
We are creating a Budget Response Team that will be asked to re-think University of Nebraska operations. 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.
In all, about 100 subject-matter experts from within and outside the university will be involved in this effort. The task forces have two months to bring savings recommendations to a university-wide Steering Committee, chaired by Provost Susan Fritz and Chief Strategist Jim Linder. The Steering Committee will then bring final recommendations to me and the chancellors.
I want to be clear about several points.
Number one, our colleagues on the Budget Response Team have difficult choices ahead. No budget cut is easy. The potential scale of our current challenge – exacerbated by cuts in state funding in past decades that have made us a lean institution already – makes this task even more daunting.
I have told team members that I expect them to consider all options for cuts and develop recommendations that best position our operations for the future. But 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. We are not talking about efficiencies. We’re talking about cuts.
Two, we’re focusing on university operations for a reason. As we navigate this downturn, we are going to do everything we can to protect the academic integrity of the University of Nebraska. I can’t promise programs won’t be impacted. I can pledge, however, that in every conversation I have with legislators, I will remind them that the good work of our faculty – the people who educate our students, conduct important research and perform service in all 93 counties – is a primary reason they enjoy a 6-to-1 return on their investment in Nebraska’s university.
And three, any discussion of budget reductions necessarily invites unease. I share in your worry. But Nebraska has weathered worse economic storms. And for nearly 150 years our state has found a way to support its university. I think that partnership will continue – and that the university can be the leader in helping to grow Nebraska out of this downturn. To do that, even in the face of challenges, we must continue educating Nebraska’s future workforce, delivering outstanding health care and research, and applying our expertise to the world’s most difficult problems.
Beginning Monday, I will join each chancellor for open campus forums where we will be able to discuss our budget planning in person. I hope you can attend. I will continue to update you throughout this process. Thank you for all you do for the University of Nebraska.
Hank M. Bounds, Ph.D.
President, University of Nebraska