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OPINION: Funding needed for more classes at UNR

Karter Strider
Karter Strider

My pockets have a hole the size of $21,215 in student loan debt and my backpack is stuffed with textbooks reflecting the burden of quality education. This past semester I added LGBTQ+ studies as a minor. The 30 course options in the university catalog confirms this is doable. 

However, more than half of these courses are only offered only once every two years. Of these, 14 are pairs of identical courses being offered on the same schedule under two departments. Essentially, 14 of the options listed are actually seven making it tricky to plan with three semesters left until I graduate. Notably, these rare courses are most directly tied to the LGBTQ+ part of the LGBTQ+ studies programming. I’ll be missing out on classes such as “Queer History and Theory” and “LGBTQ+ Identities and Schooling.”

Student services and course offerings at the University of Nevada, Reno are suffering from lack of funding. The spring 2024 semester is facing a 5 percent budget cut in each department across the university in response to the $25.4 million shortfall for the 2024 fiscal year. The cancellation of classes prompted Jaedyn Young, news editor for The Nevada Sagebrush, to question how students will graduate on time as course opportunities shrink and class enrollment reaches capacity. Additionally, hiring has been frozen for 108 vacant positions, including custodians who directly contribute to the quality of students’ experience. 

Budget amounts for hiring new faculty and student services are decided by administration. The financial administration has largely attributed debt to upcoming cost of living adjustments for employees. 

The University of Nevada, Reno is in a budget deficit because the Sandoval administration mismanaged resources, prioritizing athletics and administration. It’s time to read the receipts. Kent Ervin, former president of the Nevada Faculty Alliance, has compiled eight articles tracking where funds are coming from and where the money is going. He notes the cost of living adjustment for the 2024 fiscal year comes to $8.9 million for faculty and classified staff, along with other priorities including athletics ($10-plus million per year), executive positions and salary increases ($4.5 million per year), the business building project ($10.25 million per year), and iPads ($3.5 million per year). 

The recent $10 million increase for athletics comes from Marigold Mines. Previously, this revenue was under an agreement to be allocated to the Mackay School of Mines. Andrew Clinger, vice president of administration and finance, said, “We’ve committed $10 million of that [revenue from Marigold Mines] to athletics. It’s not like it was money that was being spent in some other area.” Well, not since 2020 anyway, but that money could have been allocated to any department. Compromises around this $10 million would have easily reduced the 5 percent cut across departments, equivalent to $11.1 million.

Since 2020, the university’s administration has been expanded by 13 positions. UNR has become a top-heavy institution at a cost of $4.5 million annually. The average salaries for UNR executives and administrative faculty were a little more than $200,000 in 2020, but it has steadily increased to the $240,000 mark in fall 2023. And while the 5 percent budget cut also applied to executive positions, an earlier 12 percent increase still nets a 7 percent increase.

The needs of the institution and students must be met before administration is unnecessarily expanded or given raises. The administration's funding choices are punishing students financially and academically. Tuition increases are projected to deal with inflation; this is justifiable for continuing to provide quality services to students.

These increases are typically directed to the state-supported operating budget. The budget is the main source of funding for all academic departments and administrative support, for example buying enough flasks for the chemistry department or hiring that additional graduate student for the packed core humanities class. 

For the next two years, the board of regents had the opportunity to approve a combined 4.4 percent increase toward the state-supported operating budget, but the board chose a zero percent increase. The university undergraduate registration fee increased by 19 percent from $224 to $268; simultaneously, undergraduate fees going toward the state-supported operating budget decreased from 69 percent to 66 percent.

Ervin sums up that this 4.4 percent diversion from fiscal year 2025 onward accounts for $3.65 million annually being stripped from the core instructional budget. So the university is raising tuition and fees while not maintaining the quality of education or resources available to students. Personally, I don’t love being charged more for less. 

Administration must allocate more funding to fulfill the university’s core mission: “Prepare graduates to compete globally through high-quality undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the liberal arts, sciences, and selected professional programs.” The budget must be adjusted to reflect the needs of all students, faculty and staff members. The excuse that cost of living adjustments caused the 5 percent budget cut across departments is inadequate. These adjustments are an anticipated expense that should be planned for. I want my professors paid fairly so quality faculty will be retained. 

I would also like to see the university have a dedicated building for the Office of Indigenous Relations with facilities for Indigenous students, faculty, staff and community members; transgender inclusivity by adding gender neutral bathrooms into every building and more extensive counseling services for trans students; improvements to accessibility within classrooms and to campus infrastructure for students using mobility aids; increased Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center hours; frozen positions filled so departments have adequate support; the number of custodial and maintenance positions expanded; and class enrollment capped at 30 students per class.

Every student, faculty and staff member should have a real say about our needs as a campus community. I urge students to contact their Associated Students of the University of Nevada senators to petition for more opportunities, such as surveys and public comments, to give opinions on funding. Results of these comments need to be distributed across campus and the administration has the responsibility to act on our fundamental needs. Find more information about organizing and weigh in on Instagram @unrbudgetparency. 

Full budget transparency and direct action are the minimum demand as we aim to build mutual respect and trust between the administration and the student body. President Brian Sandoval’s contract was renewed for the next four years. If the Sandoval-appointed administration is not up to the task of making students real partners, I suggest we petition for their removal. 

Karter Strider is a full-time undergraduate at the University of Nevada. 

The Nevada Independent welcomes informed, cogent rebuttals to opinion pieces such as this. Send them to [email protected].


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