I want to update you on the plan we announced this summer to navigate the challenges and opportunities before us.
As you know, a key element of our plan is a broad review of operations across the University of Nebraska System to ensure we are making the most effective, efficient and impactful use of every dollar. Our goal is to align resources with priorities – taking advantage of our scale where possible so we can maximize our investments in enhancing our competitiveness, academic quality and reputation.
Last week I wrote to the chancellors regarding our next steps. First, we have begun a modified zero-based budget review to carefully analyze our expenditures. The purpose of this one-time exercise is to take inventory of our existing budgets, then step back and imagine how we would build the University of Nebraska if we were starting from zero: In today’s fiscal, enrollment and talent management landscape, what should a dynamic, flexible, ambitious public university system look like?
In addition, we will analyze functions that remain distributed or decentralized across the university, including information technology, facilities, public relations and communications, business operations, and student services. We will take inventory of duplicate and decentralized non-faculty staffing and consider what alignments make the most sense for our university.
As I have told the chancellors, this work will require our teams to put aside any campus silos or agendas. We all need to focus on our end goal: a reinvention of the University of Nebraska that will free up resources so we can make strategic investments and become the best possible university for students and the people of Nebraska. To that end, I have asked the chancellors, chief business officers and their teams to think through questions like:
- Is there value in five separate business functions in a single university system, or are we missing opportunities to take advantage of our scale and capture savings that can be reinvested into academic programs, faculty and staff salaries, and other priorities?
- Which, if any, functions are best maintained at the campus level?
- Which, if any, functions should be unified across the system?
- What are potential risks and rewards to a function remaining distributed on the campuses, and to unifying the function campus- or system-wide?
I have told my own team in the Office of the President that it is important for us to lead by example. We have cut 25 percent of our FTEs, largely in areas where we concluded that the work is best carried out at the campus level.
Our goal is to have preliminary zero-based budget reviews submitted by Dec. 1. These reports will inform conversations between me, the chancellors and vice presidents about our path forward.
There are no predetermined answers in this process, nor easy ones. As recent history shows us, any choice we make will involve trade-offs. We have been successful in streamlining IT, procurement and facilities across much of the university system, saving more than $25 million and protecting academic programs in the process.
But realigning a business function across a large and complex organization like ours necessarily involves temporary growing pains and potentially reduced service levels. It’s our job to establish priorities and decide whether we can accept those tradeoffs. If we can’t, our options are limited. We will have no choice but to look further into our academic, research and service enterprises to find tens of millions in cuts. As we have shared before, significant new funding is not coming to the university from the outside. We must become better at setting priorities and investing our limited resources accordingly.
We readily acknowledge this is difficult work. But it is crucial to the University of Nebraska’s continued growth and success. I believe we have an opportunity to become a stronger, more efficient, more competitive university, and I look forward to the thoughtful discussions to come with the chancellors’ leadership teams and in the Office of the President.
In the meantime, we are moving forward with other elements of our Five-Point Plan, including our bold goals to enhance our national reputation and gain readmission into the prestigious Association of American Universities. I plan to give an update at the Oct. 5 Board of Regents meeting and will share the same information with you.
Thank you for all you do for the University of Nebraska and our 50,000 students.
President, University of Nebraska System