Las Vegas Sun

January 21, 2018

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Consensus through cuts


UNLV President David Ashley might not have made many waves during his first year on campus, but that's about to change.

A quiet, determined, intellectual sort, the soft-spoken construction engineer spent his first year on campus taking notes and building his leadership team.

But as Ashley moves into year two, he and his new executive vice president and provost, Neal Smatresk, have begun placing their stamp on the university, trying to better focus its mission as an undergraduate campus and research institution.

And they want everyone with a stake in UNLV to chime in.

This fall, in a novel campus move, Ashley's leadership team will be discussing the budget with everyone on campus, explaining the intricacies of the funding formula and the realities of what flattening enrollment means for the base budget. Through town hall meetings, faculty, staff, students and the Las Vegas community will be invited to suggest where an estimated $5 million in cuts should be made from the base budget and where the university will invest the few dollars it has.

Soliciting campus input on budget decisions is raising eyebrows.

"I've never seen it done before, and I really like it," said Bryan Spangelo, Faculty Senate chairman. "Faculty really like to know where the money is, where is it coming, where is it going, and where are the deficits. It's a very horizontal management style. There are a lot of smart people on campus, and opening up the books and being transparent and letting them give their input is really refreshing."

Struggling to keep up with rapid growth for 20 years, UNLV has overextended itself, and now it's facing some budget-driven readjustments.

"We will restructure, reorient, the budget," Ashley said. "We want to reinvest in the research system rather than continue to be pushed by growth."

That means the university's research agenda has to be narrowed, Ashley and Smatresk said, with investment in research that best meet s the needs of the Las Vegas Valley and the areas where UNLV professors can distinguish themselves the most.

"It's like pruning a tree," Smatresk said. "There's been a lot of growth, fairly unrestrained, and things are all over the place. If you do a little pruning, it improves the health of the tree and helps it to grow stronger. We will continue to grow and focus research activities and educational programming, but to do that we have to reallocate resources from things that are not critical to the university to the things that are."

Throughout the four- to six-month public planning process, Ashley, Smatresk and vice presidents will focus on advancing UNLV's capabilities as a research institution, increas ing the rigor of the undergraduate degree programs and expand ing the university's involvement in the community.

Internally, Smatresk will develop new admission requirements and ways to help more students complete their degrees. Simultaneously, Smatresk will be instituting new performance requirements for deans, evaluating the quality and productivity of academic programs and beginning an overhaul of the general education curriculum.

Ashley, meanwhile, will take the role of UNLV's primary cheerleader, telling its story to the community, raising money for the ongoing $500 million campaign and celebrating UNLV's 50th anniversary with a year of special events. His community outreach will include a series of public speaking engagements, such as one earlier this month at a Nevada Development Authority breakfast, but even more intimate, small-group meetings.

Andy Feinstein, a food and beverage professor in the Harrah College of Hotel Administration and an adviser to the president, is setting up 50 lunch dates for Ashley to meet government, business, community and faculty leaders in what he calls "Presidential friend-raising."

Where Ashley's discomfort with schmoozing is often palpable at major events, standing in one place and letting people come to him, he shines in intimate conversations. In group settings, he'd rather answer questions or engage in dialogue than be a speechmaker.

"He's very sincere when he communicates and talks to you, he wants to know you and understand what your perspectives are, and that is refreshing," Feinstein said.

With the arrival of Bill Boldt in September as UNLV's new vice president of advancement, Ashley will also be restructuring all of UNLV's external communication efforts - fundraising, alumni relations, marketing and public relations - under one umbrella.

Ashley plans to kick off the fall semester with a tightly guarded donation announcement Sept. 10 - a donation foundation officials say will reenergize the slow-going campaign with a bang and immediately advance UNLV's hotel management college.

Ashley's organizational plan shows he and Smatresk operating out of the same top box, with Ashley focused on external issues and Smatresk focused on internal issues. The vice presidents report to both of them.

In addition to creating Boldt's position, Ashley has created and the position of vice president of diversity and inclusion and filled it with Christine Clark . Her job is to work on student/faculty recruitment and retention, a multicultural center and related events, and work-life issues. Rebecca Mills, vice president of student life, will focus on improving the overall student experience, such as by creating a one-stop student services center.

Ashley also has promoted General Counsel Richard Linstrom to a vice presiden cy and expanded the role of Gerry Bomotti , one of the few holdovers from Carol Harter's administration, making him senior vice president of finance and business. Bomotti and Juanita Fain, vice president of administration, will be a key part of the planning process.

The only leader Ashley doesn't have in place for the long term is his vice president of research and graduate studies. That search was extended at least another six months this month when the chosen candidate opted not to take the job.

But Ashley proved his commitment to research this spring by reallocating $1.25 million for equipment and research grants to professors across the university, said faculty, who gave Ashley an "A" on his first year as president.

His transparency with the budget and desire to include professors in the decision has further won faculty over.

"He really listens to faculty, hears our concerns," said Spangelo . "He's letting us be co-creators of a better environment."