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Chancellor offers thanks, speaks of challenges

Image with caption: Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., chancellor of UNMC and the University of Nebraska at Omaha

Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., chancellor of UNMC and the University of Nebraska at Omaha

Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., began Tuesday's town hall meeting by congratulating UNMC's graduating students and thanking faculty and staff. He also thanked all of the front line health care professionals that are part of the UNMC family.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Dr. Gold emphasized that safety will drive all return-to-campus decision-making.

"It's our No. 1 priority and we will always err on the side of safety," he said. "The virus is not going to go away and we need to get to a level of safety so the public understands that all prudent evidence based actions have been taken."

Campus leaders have developed an exhaustive higher education recovery checklist focused on a range of topics from engineering facility controls and environmental safety to workflow and space considerations, he said.

Dr. Gold then outlined the financial situation facing UNMC, and the steps that will be taken to prepare for the 2020-21 fiscal year as well as the next biennium.

"Difficult decisions likely lie ahead, but we will maintain our momentum and work to keep campuswide budget reductions to a minimum, while also making sure we safely resume in-person teaching and learning this fall," he said.

The chancellor was joined Tuesday by Doug Ewald, vice chancellor for business, finance and business development for UNMC and UNO, who said campus leaders have been proactive in planning for different scenarios and already have reduced their spending by 3% over the last quarter of 2019-20.

"We will have a clearer picture of our next steps as state tax receipts and other budgetary factors are known," Ewald said. "Until then, we will continue planning for various unknowns."

The planning process will continue over the next few weeks, they said, as leaders project what the 2020-2021 budget will look like based on different outcomes of state funding, tuition rates and salary increases.

In April, NU President Ted Carter sent a message acknowledging the budgetary challenges that lie ahead for higher education. Since then, NU has taken the following steps:

  • Implemented a hiring freeze, with exceptions only for urgent mission-critical positions.
  • Asked each campus and central administration to reduce spending by 3% in the final quarter of this fiscal year.
  • Limited travel and major purchases to those that are time-sensitive.
  • Reviewed all capital construction projects to determine whether any can be delayed.
  • Announced a tuition freeze for 2021-22 and 2022-23 for undergraduate, graduate and professional students; resident and nonresident students; and those attending in-person and online. Tuition rates will increase by 2.75 percent for 2020-21 and then be flat for the 2021-2022-23 academic years.
  • Announced the Nebraska Promise, which will guarantee that full-time resident undergraduates whose families have an adjusted gross income of $60,000 or less or who quality for the federal Pell Grant can attend any NU campus and pay no tuition.

Dr. Gold said campus chancellors expect to receive a budget projection for the 2020-21 fiscal year from the NU system. From there, vice chancellors, deans and directors will use their appropriate budget-planning templates and meet with faculty, staff and students to finalize their planned budgets for next year. Campus leaders have outlined possible plans based on budget models of 5%, 7.5% and 10%, and looked at a three-year budget model.

Even so, no decisions have been made, Dr. Gold said, and everything possible will be done to preserve jobs and benefits.

"We will continue to look at "back-of-the-house" efficiencies," Dr. Gold said, including elimination of vacant salary lines, as well as ways to "grow enrollment, research and clinical care delivery through innovative programs.

"We will continue to keep faculty, staff and students apprised of our budget discussions," he said, noting that the Board of Regents will approve NU's budget at its June 26 meeting.

During the forum, Dr. Gold and Ewald also:

  • Indicated that faculty, staff and students will be hearing about any new stay at home directives next week shortly after Memorial Day. UNMC's previous communication on that had been clear about work from home through June 1.
  • Highlighted the UNMC/Nebraska Medicine Healthcare Heroes Package scholarship programs, which is exclusive to UNMC and Nebraska Medicine employees and/or their dependents for the fall semester at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
  • Noted that construction projects, including the Wittson Hall, Wigton Heritage Center and Munroe-Meyer Institute relocation projects, are on schedule and on budget.
  • Discussed the NExT project, including the state funding bill, LB 1084, which is supported by approximately almost all state senators. Dr. Gold said he is optimistic about the future of the public-private partnership project and is moving ahead with plans for the multi-billion dollar state-of the art academic medical center facility and federal all-hazard disaster response military and civilian partnership.
  • Encouraged everyone on campus to wear a mask, noting that they, too, wear them to protect others.

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