Public law schools are no strangers to funding cuts, but few have found themselves in the dire situation now facing the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

University President Neal Smatresk has proposed a budget cut of $2.26 million for the law school as part of $32.6 million in cuts for the university. He outlined the proposal in a letter to faculty and students on March 8.

The law school would reduce its operating budget by $68,351, while the rest of the cuts will be made up with tuition and fee increases. The university plans to eliminate 315 faculty and staff positions, although there is no plan to eliminate law school faculty or staff.

A summary accompanying Smatresk’s letter notes that the plan would require significant tuition increases. “These additional increases will undermine the law school’s successful formula and render it a mediocre institution,” the summary reads.

Law school tuition at present is $20,000 for Nevada residents and $33,400 for out-of-state students.

Law Dean John Valery White said the school has not yet determined how big the tuition increase will be, but that it will likely fall within the 15% to 20% range. That would be an unusually large increase, given that most law schools are talking about tuition increases of between 3 and 10%.

“I think we’re in a different position than the rest of the university because law school costs everywhere have been going up, and that gives us room to manage,” White said. “I think we’re going to continue being a strong school, but these cuts do make things harder and they add an element of uncertainty.”

The comment that the cuts would lead to a “mediocre institution” perhaps sends the wrong message, and was intended to convey that drastic price increases will hurt the law school’s competitiveness push prospective students to look elsewhere for an affordable education, White said.

State lawmakers have envisioned even larger cuts at UNLV — $47.5 million. Nevada faces a $1.5 billion budget shortfall, and Gov. Brian Sandoval has called for cuts of $162 million throughout the state’s higher education system. Lawmakers are expected to finalize the state budget this summer.

According to Smatresk’s letter, UNLV has already seen a $49.6 million decline in state support during the past four years and has lost 540 positions. He has proposed eliminating or reorganizing 12 departments, eliminating two athletic programs and cutting 33 degree programs. His plan assumes a 12% tuition increase during the next two years.

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com.