UNLV facing 'uncertainties'

The state of UNLV is this: in limbo.

That's the gist of the university president's assessment Tuesday to students, staff and faculty in his annual State of the University address.

In a 20-minute speech that quoted Sir Francis Bacon, Winston Churchill and the New York Times, President David Ashley said "uncertain" or "uncertainty" a dozen times.

"Although there is some budgetary uncertainty," he said, "what remains certain is this: Our priorities will not change. We are resolute in not allowing budget actions by others to redefine them."

He promised that, despite budget cuts and the probability of more severe cuts to come, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas will continue pushing research, infrastructure improvements and student achievement.

He also said preliminary numbers for this semester indicate enrollment is up about 1.5 percent when everyone predicted it would be down about that much.

Some of the growth, he said later, appeared to be in graduate school, which is typical when the economy is down. The freshman and transfer student ranks also grew, partly because of increased recruiting, he said.

His message was warmly but cautiously received by faculty and students.

"He's not backing off in difficult times," said professor Nasser Daneshvary, chairman of the Faculty Senate. "That's the Las Vegas spirit."

Likewise, student government President Adam Cronis said he and the student body appreciated Ashley's support.

He said the speech "touched upon what it needed to. A lot of things are up in the air."

Like exactly what the budget will be next year. Gov. Jim Gibbons, noting the slumping economy and a dearth of tax revenues, has asked all state agencies to prepare for cuts of 14 percent next year.

Higher education leaders have said such cuts would devastate a system that, they claim, generates $4.50 in economic activity in the state for every tax dollar spent.

The Legislature will address the issue when it meets next year.

Cronis said students are considering organizing protests of some sort as the legislative session approaches.

"It's a tempting tack to see if it might have an impact," he said.

But for now, the colleges and universities wait.

Which is why Ashley focused on all the uncertainty.

He touted the university's academic success center, meant to smooth the transition to the university for new students.

He pledged environmental awareness, noting that the university is dedicated to cutting greenhouse gases by 80 percent by mid-century.

He said education is at a critical point in Nevada, however uncertain.

"Success," he said, "is within our grasp."

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0307.