September 28, 2016 – by Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
University of Nevada, Reno President Marc Johnson said Wednesday that he will seek help from the 2017 Nevada Legislature in making the school a top-tier research university.
Specifically, Johnson said on Nevada Newsmakers that he will ask state lawmakers to help fund an expansion of faculty and construction of a new College of Engineering building.
Yet Johnson may have competition from UNLV at the Legislature in getting money to fund the school’s dream of becoming a top-tier research university, said a longtime Nevada political observer.
“There is going to be an inherent conflict between UNLV and UNR (at the Legislature) to some degree with who is going to be the top-tier research facility,” said Chris Wicker, the longtime spokesman for the Washoe Democratic Party. “Most states of our size and population and finances — at best — can do one top-tier university.”
Wicker, speaking on the “pundit panel” after Johnson’s interview, said major expendatures for universities come with a very heavy bill that lawmakers find uncomfortable.
Johnson did not say specifically how much the engineering building or faculty expansion would cost.
“The problem is that any significant increases in higher education budgets are such large amounts of money,” Wicker said. “It is always hard to make a difference with a few million. It is always tens of millions and that is the real problem.”
Johnson wants to see the university’s faculty expand by 400 positions and wants the state to fund 100 of those.
“First of all, we will be investing our own funds to a much greater degree than we are asking from the state,” Johnson said. “So we projected back in 2014 that we needed 400 new facility positions and we will be responsible for coming up with 300 of those.
“We’re also asking for some support in this next legislative session for a really fundamental piece of infrastructure and that is to have shared funding for the development of a College of Engineering building,” Johnson said.
The university would generate half the funding for the engineering building while hoping the state can generate the other half, Johnson said.
Becoming a top-tier research university is critical for growing the local economy, Johnson said, agreeing with host Paul Enos that Stanford’s and UC-Berkeley’s research help fuel the Silicon Valley’s business and technology.
“We’re moving toward a very high research category because research is very important to the economic development of the area,” Johnson said. “It is important for bringing new jobs to the university enterprise, as well as creating more intellectual properties that can be commercialized and support businesses.”
UNR can become a top-tier research institution in less than 10 years, Johnson said.
“We will be in a good position in five to seven years to be classified by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as a top university for research,” Johnson said. “We have to grow our faculty. We have to then, as a result of their activity, grow our expenditures and research, develop new technologies, grow our graduate programs — and at the same time — create wonderful, expanded opportunities for undergraduate research at the institution as well.”
The University of Nevada will focus research in one major area, although that area has many branches, Johnson said.
“We are supporting the broad category that we call ‘advanced manufacturing’, which is knowledge-based businesses,” he said. “We are very much into research and development of unmanned autonomous systems, both aerial vehicles, cars and buses. We are working on city buses that will be autonomous as well.
“We have medical diagnostics that is really having an impact worldwide on doing quick diagnostics of diseases right out of our medical school,” Johnson said. “We have the biggest earthquake engineering lab in the country where we are testing bridge components and highway components and building components to make them safer in case of an earthquakes as Nevada has more earthquakes than any other state.
“So it is things of that nature — and renewable energy. It is a long list,” Johnson said.
Nevada’s College of Engineering’s students mostly come from Washoe County, rural Nevada and Northern California, although the university has students from all over the nation and from foreign countries.
“Engineering is our fastest growing college,” Johnson said. “Engineering has the second-most research going on, second only to the medical school. Turning out large numbers of engineers will be fundamental for the work force for the kinds of industries that are coming here.”
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