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Friday, March 11, 2011

The University that cried wolf

As I explained yesterday, UNLV officials grossly overstated the magnitude of past budget cuts. As a result, they've made students, faculty, taxpayers and politicians panic. Its all part of the game to protect their own budget. But this strategy has some adverse risks that, in my opinion, makes it a politically stupid strategy - especially in the information age.

1) If someone actually gets a hold of the revenue numbers its easy to call shenanigans.  The budget figures are public record so obfuscating the truth is an easy way to paint yourself as a liar or intellectual incompetent. I got a hold of the actual revenue figures and I showed that the $49.6 million reduction in General Fund appropriations since FY 2008 was really a reduction of $20 million (or 3.7 percent) in actual total revenue.

2) Claiming devastation doesn't build confidence in the quality of your university. University officials practically claimed Western Civilization itself will collapse if the university budget was cut. Such hyperbole only panics students (revenue) and faculty (service providers), thus reducing their confidence in the system. Of course, UNLV officials also say things like how the cuts will turn them into a "mediocre university." Aside from already being a mediocre university, what business leader would say something like this? Imagine Ford saying "if we turn down these Federal bailouts we'll become a mediocre automaker" - who would buy Ford after that? (Note: Ford is doing better than ever before...)

If I didn't know that overstating budget cuts and engaging in hyperbole wasn't part of the political strategy to protect their budget, I would have to assume UNLV is run by the worst intellectual and business incompetents in America.

3) If you claim the university will collapse with the budget cuts it better darn well collapse or you better hope the economy recovers. If the university doesn't collapse, your past predictions look foolish and you're painted as someone who is prone to overreactingIf the economy doesn't recover, you run the risk of exposing yourself to some very real and relatively large budget cuts. In other words, overstating small reductions now can backfire in the future.

University officials claimed the past cuts (claimed at $49.6 million) would devastate the university yet the universities are still functioning and no one can say with a straight face that quality has significantly declined. In other words, they cried wolf about past budget cuts. Now the public knows that a $49.6 million appropriations reduction (remember this is an overstated figure) had little to no impact on the overall operation of UNLV. Now Governor Sandoval has requested a $47.6 million reduction (a real reduction). IE, the wolf has finally arrived.

In other words, overplaying the past budget cuts backfired.

Being truthful upfront avoids these problems. It also allows you to hold on to your integrity and credibility - something our university (and other government) leaders don't seem too concerned about right now.

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