UNR President Marc Johnson addresses campus issues

Here’s an email that I received several minutes ago from interim president Marc Johnson regarding several controversies and issues that the University of Nevada, Reno has faced during this academic year. Check the links for stories from The Nevada Sagebrush.

Dear Student,

Over the last several years, we have dealt with many substantial issues driven by these economic times. Financial stewardship work has continued in recent months, and significant examples include the closure of the Fire Science Academy and development of a plan to buy down most of its capital debt, the realization of $5.5 million in unanticipated out-of-state tuition, solidifying the future conference affiliation for Wolf Pack Athletics and the proposed rezoning of a portion of the University’s Main Station Field Lab. I am writing to update you on a couple of these and other matters.

First, it was nearly two years ago that we announced the two-year appointment of an interim dean for the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources (CABNR), and the time has come to initiate a national search for this position. Filling this leadership role signals a continued commitment to the educational and research mission embodied by this college. Every college must be responsive and appropriately scaled to the workforce and economic impact of the industries served. In the case of CABNR, constituent input points to the opportunity to define a clearer vision for the college, evaluate and refresh the curriculum, and address today’s industry and issues. Filling the position of CABNR dean is intended to set the college on a positive, stable course that builds on the strength of its faculty, quality of its students and passion of its constituents.

In the coming weeks, Provost Heather Hardy will appoint a search committee for the position of CABNR dean.  Dr. Ron Pardini’s service as interim dean has been appreciated and he will continue in this role as the search moves forward.

A second issue has important implications for all University of Nevada, Reno students. The University’s Fire Science Academy (FSA) closed in December, but its $24 million capital debt carries forward. Our students pay a $6.50 per-credit capital-improvement fee and this fee is currently directed entirely toward the FSA debt service. This situation must be addressed and improved.

In March, the University will present a debt buy-down plan to the Board of Regents which, if approved, will free up and redirect $4.10 of that per-credit fee to capital improvement funds and projects that directly benefit all students.

The debt buy-down plan includes proceeds from the sale of the FSA to the Nevada Division of State Lands and the allocation of funds from other University assets, already approved by the Board of Regents. Through this plan, the FSA capital debt will be reduced to $6.5 million. The University is committed to paying this remaining amount down and freeing up the additional $2.40 of the $6.50 per-credit fee as soon as possible.

Associated with the closure of the FSA are site restoration costs which must be paid by the University as part of the sale. At the Regents’ March 1-2 meeting, the University will request an additional allocation of funds realized through the 2005 sale of the Mill and McCarran property to fund the restoration costs. Our proposal is consistent with prior actions by the Regents. Most important, because our proposal supports the continued buy-down of the debt, it allows the significant portion of the per-credit fee paid by students to be reinvested in campus-wide capital enhancements. This ultimately benefits all 18,000 students.

I would like to share a quick update on two other matters that demonstrate our continued financial stewardship work.

Wolf Pack Meats: With significant funding reductions to public higher education in Nevada, it has been necessary to evaluate programs that are financially supported by the University. Wolf Pack Meats has incurred five years of business-operating losses totaling more than a half-million dollars. Because the University no longer does teaching or research in meat science, we are re-evaluating the subsidy to Wolf Pack Meats.  However, the University has never proposed to close it.

A stakeholders group has been convened, and includes representatives of current customers, local food producers and private meat processers who are concerned that Wolf Pack Meats currently presents unfair, state‐subsidized competition. With stakeholders’ input, we are working toward a formal, open Request for Proposal process by which to determine whether there is interest on the part of someone or some group to maintain the operation of Wolf Pack Meats.

Proposed Rezoning of McCarran Parcel: As noted at the outset, the University has requested rezoning of a 104‐acre parcel which is part of the University’s 1,049‐acre Main Station Field Laboratory. The intent is to preserve the value of the parcel, which borders South McCarran Boulevard and was annexed into the City of Reno in October. The University’s request to rezone the parcel to a Planned Unit Development is compatible with zoning codes and the regional Master Plan requirements, and was approved by the City of Reno Planning Commission in November. The University does not have immediate plans to sell or develop this property; rather, we simply want to plan, entitle and protect it for the future.

At the University’s request and with the support of those expressing concerns, the Reno City Council rescheduled the rezoning request to March to allow time for further discussion. We will host a McCarran Parcel Rezoning Community Forum on Feb. 21, 5-7:30 p.m., in the Joe Crowley Student Union ballroom. A “frequently asked questions” document, available online, more fully addresses this matter.

All of these topics reflect our deep commitment to a quality education and remarkable experience for all students across the span of the University. To accomplish this as we also fulfill our University-wide, land-grant role, we must work toward the most efficient and effective use of all physical and monetary assets. We must build upon the best of our history and the best of what we are today, and continually evolve to serve the current and future needs of our students and state.




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