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Smatresk to outline new focus for smaller UNLV

UNLV has reached a turning point, the university’s president will tell students, faculty and staff today at his annual State of the University address.

Neal Smatresk said Wednesday that the days when UNLV, like the city that surrounds it, operates on a growth-is-good model are over.

Now, with budget cuts over the past several years taking their toll in millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs lost, the university must be more focused, he said.

“After four years of budget cuts, it is really time for us to let go of what we were four or five or six years ago,” Smatresk said. “We’re in a different place, clearly facing a different fiscal future.”

Annual support from the state will be about $73 million less than its high point a few years ago, tuition is about double what it was then, dozens of programs have been eliminated or merged into others, and there are about 700 fewer jobs at the university.

What that means is that UNLV will have to get used to being smaller; it might shrink more.

Enrollment, flat at about 28,000 for the past several years, had skyrocketed before that. Now, it probably will be down by about 4 percent this semester.

The programs that have been eliminated are gone. Those include informatics, educational leadership, and recreation and sports management. In addition, some programs, such as marriage and family therapy, no longer get state money and have become self-funded.

Smatresk said he intends on strengthening the programs that are left, rather than expanding again when times are less tight.

“We have to make sure we don’t spread ourselves thin again,” he said.

Faculty and student leaders said they agree, in general, with Smatresk’s vision for the university — providing budget cuts are over.

“The main concern of faculty is wanting to be sure we’re on sound financial footing,” said Greg Brown, a history professor and chairman of the faculty senate. “I think there’s a natural tendency to look over one’s shoulder after the last couple of years.”

He said faculty are concerned that salaries are not keeping up with the market, which could make keeping and recruiting top researchers and professors difficult.

Sarah Saenz, president of the undergraduate student body, said students have been hit hard by the cuts.

“We hope we don’t have to see any more cuts or tuition increases,” she said.

Smatresk is operating under the assumption that there will not be drastic cuts to higher education in the next budget cycle.

But even so, with less state support in the coming years than in previous ones, the university will have to adapt.

There may be growth, there may be new programs, but always with an eye toward advancing the economic diversification interests of the state.

He called that “selective investment.”

“We want to get everything we can out of our resources,” he said.

He said students who may not be ready for life at a university will be encouraged to instead attend the community college or the state college.

He said that the university is on “solid ground” but that no one should assume that means he will sit back and relax now.

“We need to look ahead,” he said. “I hope we can get by the pain and trauma and move forward with enthusiasm.”

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

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