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."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

UNO chancellor to hold budget forum Thurs

The University of Nebraska at Omaha Chancellor John Christensen will host a campus forum explaining the university budget on Nov. 19 from 10 to 11 a.m.

The forum will focus on any possible changes to the 2009-10 UNO budget coming out of the special session of the Nebraska Legislature.

"We want to share with everyone what we know," Christensen said in a statement. "There will be questions that we won't be able to answer, but beginning this conversation again is extremely important.”

This comes after NU President J.B. Milliken said during testimony at the special session of Nebraska Legislature more than 300 jobs will be cut from the University of Nebraska system.

Milliken said the cuts are the result of the state budget cuts Governor Dave Heineman has proposed.

Under the proposal, the university system would have to cut $9 million in spending and an additional $17 million would be cut from the 2010-11 university budget.

Milliken also said in his testimony the cuts will affect UNO and Kearney campuses the most, as both have higher demands in salary increases over the next two years.

Faculty at UNO is scheduled for a 3.8-percent pay raise in that time., which Milliken said leaves UNO with fewer options in taking budget cuts.

Thursday’s forum will be in the Dodge Rooms on the third floor of the Milo Bail Student Center and early arrival is encouraged, as only 140 seats are available.

Friday, November 13, 2009

UNO faces more job cuts as state to cut funding

The University of Nebraska system will cut up to 300 jobs, NU President J.B. Milliken said at the special budget cutting session of the Nebraska Legislature.

Milliken said the budget cuts will most impact the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Kearney because those universities have an higher emphasis on faculty salary.

UNO faces a 3.8 percent salary increase over the next two years, per a ruling by the State Commission on Industrial Relations, a ruling that has been appealed.

More to come on this story.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Buffet railroad purchase a bet against dollar, says IMF economist

Simon Johnson, former chief economist for International Monetary Fund and current Ronald A. Kurtz Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Sloan School of Management at MIT, said Buffet's recent purchase of Burlington North Santa Fe is mostly betting on emerging markets, not the recovery of U.S. markets, as many have suggested.

Thus, as Johnson states, "it is a polite way of betting against the dollar or, even more politely, on an appreciation of the renminbi."

Johnson said:

By betting on commodities, Mr. Buffett is essentially taking an “oligarch-proof” stance. Powerful groups may rise to greater power around the world, fighting for control of raw materials and driving up their prices further. As long as there is growth somewhere in emerging markets, on some basis, Mr. Buffett will do fine.

Read the entire blog posting at Baseline Scenario.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Matt Miller at UNO

Matt Miller, author of Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of the Old Ways of Thinking to Unleash a New Prosperity said the way to challenge the powerful vested interests who prop up dead ideas is to organize and create a movement.

Nebraska Watchdog ask Gov. Heineman about pay cuts