April 29, 2010 in Idaho

Univ. of Idaho president criticizes state leaders

Associated Press
 

MOSCOW, Idaho — University of Idaho President Duane Nellis says state budget cuts are risking education programs and innovation at the Moscow campus.

Nellis also took aim Wednesday at state lawmakers that he claimed had their minds set on imposing more cuts to higher education funding even before the 2010 Legislature started in January.

“While our nation and state flounder in our commitment to research and scholarship, we put at risk our ability to produce the innovation that our nation has delivered for the greater part of a century,” Nellis said during his State of the University address.

“I must and will continue to aggressively urge our state’s leaders to preserve the outstanding academic quality and impact of the University of Idaho by prioritizing their investment in higher education,” said Nellis, who is in his second year at the Moscow campus.

In the last two years, the university has had to absorb a 21 percent cut in funding. The loss in state spending led to the restructuring or outright cuts in 49 academic programs, and Nellis warned other vital programs, including some that have taken decades to build, are close to extinction.

“We’re at the threshold of no return,” he said of some programs.

But Nellis also said efforts were under way to tap other sources for university funding in the state. For example, he will join Boise State University President Bob Kustra next week in meeting with Arthur Oppenheimer, chairman of the Idaho Business Coalition for Educational Excellence to stir up support from the private sector in Idaho.

Still, those efforts do little to ease the immediate pain caused by the current fiscal challenges.

Nellis said he regretted having to implement furloughs for faculty and staff. He added that unpaid leave programs put in place for the spring semester have had a harmful effect.

“It pained me to no end to do this furlough, because our salaries are already so low,” Nellis said.

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