Sunday, January 31, 2010

UNO Vice Chancellor says great budget challenges yet to come

The University of Nebraska at Omaha's Jan. 28 budget forum at the Milo Bail Student Center Ballroom again shed little light on the current financial shortfall, but did foreshadow what could be an even greater challenge in the future. 
Citing a quote from State Sen. Mike Flood at the Jan. 22 Board of Regents meeting, Vice Chancellor Bill Conley said the shortfall for the next biennium—2011-2013—could be high as $1 billion. 
To compare, the shortfall addressed at the last special legislative session was $334 million, with $8.8 million university-wide in the current year and $15.3 in the next year.
This figure-more than triple the previous shortfall-depends on such variables as state tax receipts, student enrollment, tuition increases or any future stimulus funding.
Despite an even greater fiscal storm looming on the horizon, Chancellor John Christensen, who led the forum, said any actions to balance the $4.3 million 2010-2011 shortfall are still uncertain. However, Christensen did express interest in a potential tuition increase.
"If the state continues to decrease support, there is no way, even with our commitment to access, that we are going to be able to maintain a 4 percent tuition level," Christensen said.
The Board of Regents will reach a decision on tuition in June 2010.
With the decrease in state funding, Conley said the tuition increase is still not enough to offset the recently approved 5.84 percent salary increase for all UNO faculty who belong to American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the pending 1.5 percent increase for all non-faculty.
Of the 5.84 percent, 4.5 percent was effective retroactive to July 1, 2009 and the remaining 1.34 percent increase will take effect on July 1, 2010.
He said for every 1 percent increase in tuition, UNO brings in $333, 000, but if the 1.5 percent non-faculty salary increase is authorized, UNO will spend an additional $450,000 for every 1 percent increase, a difference of $117,000.
The 1.5 percent non-faculty salary raise for next year is another unknown is the pending, which awaits authorization from the Board of Regents, and is something neither Christensen nor his colleagues could offer any opinion.
Another unknown is the pending 1.5 percent non-faculty salary raise for next year, which awaits authorization from the Board of Regents. Neither Christensen nor his colleagues could offer any opinion. 
"We simply don't know the answer to that question at this point in time," Christensen said.
He did reference Governor Dave Heineman's statement that said certain groups of state employees will not see raises and that state agencies are encouraged to look into the issue, but said there has not been a mandate to do so.
Despite the gloomy picture painted throughout the majority of the forum, there was one bright spot. Both Christensen and Conley said enrollment for the fall was higher than targeted, and enrollment for the spring has also remained strong.
Christensen also said he and others had contacted UNO alumni located in other states in an effort to organize increased recruitment of out-of-state students. 
He said that in California, which is already the sixth largest representative of out-of-state-students, there are thousands of students who have been blocked out of in-state enrollment because of their own state's devastating financial crisis.  
"But we don't have a lot of money to throw at out-of-state recruitment," Christensen said.
Christensen and Conley, joined by Senior Vice Chancellor Terry Hynes, asked the approximately 125 students, staff and members of faculty and the community who attended the forum to "be patient," and said they were open to all ideas and suggestions, emphasizing the desire to keep the decision-making process as decentralized as possible. 
None of the speakers at the forum offered any blueprint, but Hynes said there would be "expectations" with the decentralizing of the process. 
When asked to elaborate, Hynes said she would ask deans to take a "hard look at faculty- work load" or cutting under-enrolled classes, but made it a point to stress the
decentralization of the process.
Christensen said he is open to any suggestions made to the Board of Regents. 
He said there have already been some who propose health coverage-furlough tradeoff.
An example of this would be an employee retaining full health coverage but volunteering to work at a rate 20 percent less than the current salary. However, any AAUP faculty cannot do this independently, as the AAUP as a whole makes any decisions on furloughs.
Echoing the lack of a coherent strategy, Christensen said the process would stay decentralized "as long as it made sense."
"We will continue to throw things at the wall and see what sticks," he said.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Nebraska Watchdog investigation unveils numerous tax funded "perks" at OPPD

This comes from Joe Jordan, of Nebraska Watchdog:  

"According to records obtained by Nebraska Watchdog, OPPD with its 2,400 employees is spending at least $960,000 on items that include $10,819 for basketball, bowling, and golf leagues, $37,956 for an employee picnic, $120,000 for “vendor and beverage services”, and $101,182 for service awards."

Lee Terry's "Local Community Radio Act H.R. 1147

Sunday, November 29, 2009

UNO budget forum sheds little light on cuts

University of Nebraska at Omaha Chancellor Jon Christensen provided little detail, but said the current budget crisis is “unprecedented,” at the UNO budget-cutting forum on Nov. 19, 2009.   

“We are in a new territory as a campus, in terms of the magnitude of the challenge,” Christensen said.  “I would not be truthful if I said this is like what we would have to deal with in the past, because its not.”

Christensen said he did not have any specifics from central administration or the Board of Regents and would not receive any “system-arching orders” until January but still wanted to hold the forum to keep the process as transparent as possible. 

“The forum had been planned with the assumption the Legislature special session would be over, but that’s not the case,” Christensen said.  “But we will share the information as we promised all along, for you to know what we know.” 

Christensen, accompanied by Terry Hynes, senior vice chancellor of academic and student affairs and Bill Conley, vice chancellor for business and finance, said they had few specifics about the cuts, but provided several scenarios and options in dealing with the cuts, as well as the reasons behind the shortfall.

Cause of Budget Cuts
September 2009 net tax receipts were $40 million, or 11.2 percent below the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board’s April 2009 forecast. For the first three months of the current fiscal year, net tax receipts were down $57 million, or 6.5 percent from the forecast and down $68 million, or 7.6 percent from the 2008 actual, according to the UNO Budget Advisory Task Force Web site.   

In addition to the $2.2 million shortfall in 2010 and $2.7 million shortfall in 2010, UNO faces an additional $3.8 million in cuts over the biennium—two-year-fiscal period—per the recommendations made Gov. Dave Heineman.  Heineman recommended $1.4 to be cut in 2010 and $2.7 to be cut in 2011.

The Appropriations Committee, however, recommended a slightly lower number for UNO cuts, suggesting $1.4 million in 2010 and $2.4 million in 2011, a slightly lower total the Heineman recommendations.

A significant portion of the shortfall comes from the pending increases in salaries.  UNO is looking at funding a 1.5 percent pay raise for all faculty, with a 3.8 percent pay raise for all AAUP (American Association of University Professors) faculty, something Christensen said could greatly affect the process.  

“It (the salary increase) could be maintained, reduced or all-together eliminated, and I don’t know whether or not this will happen,” Christensen said.  “But that would have huge impact as we move forward.”

Everything is on the Table
            Christensen presented a list of possible strategies to resolve the budget issue:
            Early retirement agreements
            Maximizing workload productivity
            Continued restraint in hiring
            Shifting from full time to part time staffing where feasible 
            Reducing part‐time and/or temporary positions
            Voluntary reduction in hours worked
            Operating budget savings, such as travel
            After presenting the strategies, he emphasized the uncertainty with these strategies.  

“There is nothing written in stone, but at this point in time, everything is on the table,” Christensen said.  “Whether they are realistic or possible, until we determine that it is unrealistic or impossible, everything needs to be considered; there is no agenda, there is no priority.”

Christensen said although he cared about access and the financial load students carry, it was his “personal hope” the Board of Regents would consider a tuition increase and suggested the recent 4 percent hike was not high enough.

He said instead of 4 percent, if the regents raised tuition to 6 percent it would be an additional $4 million off of the entire NU system shortfall, and if it went to 8 percent, it would reduce the deficit by $8 million. 

“That is a slippery slope, because we have been very competitive, we want to provide access, as many of our students are first generation, underrepresented students for whom the fiscal challenges are many and are great, and we don’t want to take anyone out of play,” he said.  “At the same time, the state revenue continues to trend down and we have to have to have a sustainable operation, so that’s the end of the day.”

 The UNO Budget Advisory Task Force will hold a meeting on Dec. 2, which is meant to further explain the situation and to provide any new details or information regarding the budget, specifically regarding the special legislative session that adjourned Nov. 20. 

After Jan. 1, efforts to address the fiscal 2011 shortfalls will be made, which Conley said concerns him more than the current situation. 

“The challenge for the next biennium looks possibly and likely worse as the federal stimulus dollars come in and are no longer gonna be available and will need to be replaced in some fashion,” he said.   “So, what’s more concerning to me, is two years out. “

Christensen, Hynes nor Conley offered any specifics on how these strategies could or would be implemented, but did stress the decentralizing of the decision-making process. 

Both Christensen and Hynes said it was important to empower deans and supervisors in particular units to put forward recommendations, rather than “something coming directly from Eppley.”

“We are trying to do our best to keep decision making decentralized where we can do that, so that we’re not making decision at just the Chancellors level or at the VC level.”  Hynes said.  “We are trying to make sure that the college level retains the ability to be able to make the decisions that are in the best interests of the colleges, of the other units on campus, so we can move forward in the best possible way.

Former US ambassador shares Mideast insight with UNO students

Martin Indyk gave President Obama an "F" for his efforts to regain momentum in the Arab-Israeli conflict while speaking to a UNO crowd on Nov. 24.

The former U.S. ambassador to Israel gave his analysis of the U.S. effort to bring peace to the Middle East, both past and present, in front of a standing room only audience at Thompson Alumni Center.

Indyk, also vice president and director of the Brookings Institute, said he hoped his failures in brokering a peace arrangement between Israel and Palestine would serve as a “lantern on the stern” for the Obama Administration.

Indyk focused on 5 principle lessons from his book, “Innocent Abroad: An Intimate Account of American Peace Diplomacy,” lessons he said could not only serve as a guide to an American president resurrecting the peace effort, but also could be used to evaluate President Obama’s performance in doing such.

The first lesson:  “It is better to try and fail than to not try at all.”

“Its important to try,” Indyk said, “because resolving the Arab Israeli conflict is in the greatest national interest, which is both promoting peace and stability in a region of vital concern to the united states and spread our relationships, friendships and alliances in the region and a ultimately a way of ensuring a free flow of oil. “

The second lesson: “If a president decides he wants to resolve the conflict, he has to shape the strategic context in which the leaders in the region have to make their decisions.”

“Today, shaping the strategic context amounts to the US finding a way to work together with the Arabs and Israelis because they face a common threat—to in effect, roll back Iranian influence, curb its nuclear ambitions and to show that peace making can triumph over violence and terrorism,” Indyk said.  “But the U.S. needs to avoid getting sucked into the details, because then we lose the influence of our power.”

The remaining lessons included understanding the 21st century Middle East environment is vastly different than a decade ago, finding a sense of urgency with Arab leaders and Israeli leaders and being aware of unintended consequences of American action in the Middle East.

Overall, Indyk said Obama has been ambitious in his effort to lead the peace process but has come up short in success. 

“After almost 11 months, it is not going very well,” Indyk said.  “If you were grading, he would get an E for effort, but an F overall.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Al Tompkins speaks to UNO journalism students

Speaking to a group of select University of Nebraska at Omaha journalism students, Al Tompkins shared his insight about the journalism industry of today and tomorrow.

Before starting his PowerPoint presentation, Tompkins discussed what he said is a "bright future" for an industry which many have said is in decline.

Tompkins, Broadcast and Online Group Leader at the Poynter Institute, said technology and expertise will create jobs for journalists.

"If you are smart enough, good enough and persistent, you are gonna find work," he said.

Using technology as his reasoning, Tompkins spent all of three hours giving a presentation of the most significant new journalism technology, something he said is creating a new era of journalism.

"Its gonna get real cool, real soon," he said.

He rattled off a plethora of different software, tools and devices, with some as basic as Twitter and Flip cameras and others reminiscent of James Bond or Mission Impossible gadgets.

One program allows video to be manipulated much like a photo in Photo Shop.

For example, an image could be replaced with another image without even the slightest change in video quality--and this is video, not still photo.

"This type of technology could either be used to do good, or it could be used to be very evil," Tompkins said.

Tompkins said even with technology, it will take something more to be successful in a increasingly competitive and independent industry.

"Its all about the story," he said. "If the story is strong, people will watch, or read."