In the latest push to address the deepest cuts to higher education budgets since the Great Recession, the Board of Regents voted 7-4 Friday to approve a second one-time injection of nearly $80 million in operating funds into institutional budgets, a move that will erase an extra $25 million in cuts made by the Legislature during its first special legislative session this summer.
Regents Laura Perkins, Patrick Carter, Lisa Levine and John Moran voted against the measure, preferring other proposals that would have used only a portion of the available funds, rather than the entire balance, as a means to blunt the $25 million shortfall.
Friday’s vote will “capture” unrealized gains in market-based operating accounts controlled by the Nevada System of Higher Education, essentially turning the theoretical value of the system’s long term operating pool of funds into an estimated $79 million in hard cash that can be sent to individual institutions.
University and college presidents expressed unanimous support of the measure, noting that the money provided can provide an additional cushion in 2022.
The move follows an a $50 million injection of funds from the system’s market fluctuation account, a kind of rainy-day fund tied to the stock market, made earlier this year, as well as millions in cuts to institutional operating budgets and other cost cutting measures including furloughs and increased student fees.
The board also approved the creation of a new committee tasked with reviewing options for possible budget reductions in fiscal year 2022 and beyond, though Friday’s vote kicked a decision on the precise scope of that committee to an upcoming meeting on Sept. 17.
An original mission statement for the proposed committee posted along with Friday’s agenda generated dozens of public comments, largely from faculty, that raised concerns that the committee’s mission was overbroad, excluded key groups and lacked the kind of transparency such a committee would normally require.
That one-page mission statement raised the possibility of several major changes to Nevada higher education, including the elimination of programs, merging of institutions and wholesale review of employee compensation.
But a number of regents and Chancellor Thom Reilly sought to reassure faculty and students, saying in part that the committee will fully abide by state open meeting law and provide ample opportunity for the inclusion of faculty, students and other higher education staff in the specific nature of future budget reduction measures.
Regents ultimately approved the creation of the committee in an 11-2 vote, with Regents Levine and Moran voting against.