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NU president reiterates need for state funding in face of Ricketts’ proposed cut

February 4, 2017 GMT

State money to the University of Nebraska system has increased over the past 17 years, but not nearly as much as it has grown for other state entities.

NU President Hank Bounds stressed that point Friday at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, one stop on his week’s tour to discuss the university’s budget dilemma.

Bounds hopes to reduce a roughly 1 percent budget cut recommended for the next two years by Gov. Pete Ricketts. Bounds argues that with raises, health care, utilities and inflation, a slight cut in state money will contribute to a $58 million hole for the NU system.

The Legislature ultimately will determine the level of state money NU receives over the next two budget years. Bounds appears to be girding for some level of cuts. He has created various committees to study potential efficiencies and cuts that might be made in various services throughout the NU system, including accounting, travel, public relations, information technology and energy. Bounds and others in the NU system continue to talk to members of the Legislature.

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NU’s president said state appropriations to the university have grown 57 percent since 2000, but for Medicaid they’ve gone up 172 percent, for prisons 133 percent, for all other state agencies 91 percent, for community colleges 76 percent and for state colleges 66 percent.

“You can’t expect our revenue stream to increase slower than everyone else’s and then at the end of the day” feel no consequences, he said. Bounds predicted NU — which includes universities in Omaha, Lincoln and Kearney — will see tuition increases and staff and service cuts.

“And our tuition is in a great place,” he said. “I want it to stay there.”

Bounds fielded numerous questions from his UNO audience of about 250.

Scott Tarry, director of the UNO Aviation Institute, asked Bounds how he addresses questions about NU’s multiple colleges of education or other disciplines where there might appear to be redundancy.

“College of education for me is a really bad example,” Bounds said. “We don’t have enough teachers the way it is.”

Bounds said nursing and other health care positions are other disciplines where having multiple programs is necessary.

“There is good and appropriate redundancy” in many cases, he said.

He also was asked about the degree to which employees and students might contact their state senators.

Bounds encouraged it. “I think elected officials want to hear from you,” he said.

Andrew Aleman, an adviser in social work, said: “Don’t underestimate a student’s story.”

“Point taken,” Bounds said.

Tom Martin, a professor in the College of Business Administration, asked Bounds if the NU system has become bloated.

“There are those that will say we are bloated,” Bounds said. “I do not think that we’re a fat institution from a spending perspective.”

Martin also asked: “What does the future look like two years from now?”

Bounds didn’t even try to answer that question.

rick.ruggles@owh.com, 402-444-1123, twitter.com/rickruggles