To the Students, Faculty and Staff of the University of Nebraska:
Perhaps it is appropriate that I write to you on the 149th anniversary of the University of Nebraska’s founding.
Our University was created to serve the people of Nebraska through education, research and outreach.
Yesterday, in a legislative hearing room filled to overflow with students, colleagues, partners in agriculture and business, and community members, I was reminded that our mission of opening the doors of opportunity for our fellow citizens is as important today as it was 149 years ago.
Those testifying to the Appropriations Committee in support of continued investment in the University included first-generation students, like our UNO student body president, Carlo Eby, who asked senators on behalf of our 53,000 students to send a message that they care about Nebraska’s young people.
“In our next 149 years, the University of Nebraska can be an even more powerful force of change and opportunity. But we can’t do it without continued partnership with the state.”
We heard from a young wife and mother from Elkhorn, a breast cancer survivor who recalled that watching the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center being built was like seeing “hope built from the ground to the sky” and asked legislators not to walk away from that commitment.
We heard from leaders in agriculture who spoke of the University’s indispensable role in driving innovation in Nebraska’s No. 1 industry and helping to feed a growing and hungry world.
We heard from business leaders who depend on the 11,000 graduates we produce each year to keep our workforce strong.
Listening to the testimonies, hearing our students’ stories, witnessing the remarkable show of support by a broad range of University stakeholders reaffirmed my belief that in our next 149 years we can be an even more powerful force of change and opportunity for people in Nebraska and around the world.
As we told Appropriations Committee members yesterday, however, we can’t do it without continued partnership with the state.
As you recall, the Governor has recommended an $11 million cut to our funding this year and a $23 million reduction to next year’s appropriation. When you consider that we have already taken steps to close the $46 million gap created in part by previous funding cuts – including $30 million in administrative reductions and two years of tuition increases – the Governor’s proposal creates a serious challenge for us.
Even if our request to legislators to restore our 2018-19 base funding is successful, rising costs mean we will still be forced to make reductions. All campuses have begun this process and this week rolled out painful proposals for cuts, including elimination of academic programs, job reductions and retreats from our statewide presence.
While they are still proposals, subject to shared governance processes and legislative decisions on our budget, they represent the scale and gravity of the decisions we are facing. Lives of our students and colleagues have been upended. We would retreat at the very time that our workforce demands more college graduates, not fewer, and when the needs of our citizens are as great as they have ever been.
As one example, Nebraska has the second-highest rate of pediatric brain cancer in the country. We have some of the best cancer researchers in the nation working to figure out why. But if we don’t invest, the numbers won’t improve.
It’s my hope that senators found our case to be as compelling as I did. The Appropriations Committee will now begin its deliberations and has until March 9 to advance a budget recommendation to the full Legislature.
We have asked senators to think with us about what kind of future we want for our children and grandchildren. Affordable, excellent higher education has been a tradition in Nebraska for almost a century and a half. We hope they will decide to make higher education a priority for Nebraska’s future.
Thank you for all you do for the University of Nebraska. It is a privilege to serve alongside you.
President, University of Nebraska