Petition prompts special meeting with MU faculty to discuss MU's fiscal future

Thursday, May 1, 2008 | 10:37 p.m. CDT; updated 12:03 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — MU faculty plan to hold a special meeting Thursday after 67 faculty members signed a petition calling to discuss the university’s fiscal future.

The petition, formally brought before MU Chancellor Brady Deaton two weeks ago, addresses the “current fiscal crisis and future” of MU, and expresses some faculty’s deep concerns for MU’s “recent history, current state, and future condition.”

The petition needed 20 signatures for the meeting to occur.

At issue for many faculty is Compete Missouri, MU’s $7 million proposal to make faculty salaries competitive with peer institutions. Victoria Johnson, an associate professor of sociology and one of the petition’s drafters, said the plan is the culmination of seven years of underfunding by the Missouri legislature.

“This is the straw that has broken the camel’s back,” she said.

About $4 million of the plan’s funding is expected to come from salaries currently allotted to unfilled faculty positions, Johnson said. Another $2 million is projected to come from the reorganization and consolidation of academic programs and centers. New revenue sources would account for $1 million.

Johnson said the proposal impedes MU’s mission because, among other things, it will eliminate too many full-time faculty, research assistant and teaching assistant positions.

“This proposal would be cutting back the heart and soul of this institution,” she said.

Johnson added that fewer professors means fewer, but larger classes for students paying increased tuition.

Kerby Miller, a curator’s professor in history, said the program should instead be called “Deplete Missouri,” adding the program is merely a response to state directives and ignores the real causes of the financial crisis.

“In a broad sense, the UM administration is running scared,” he said. “For political reasons, they’re frightened to say that the university is being bludgeoned.”

Miller said MU has been put in a “double bind,” with the state legislature reducing state funding while simultaneously capping tuition. The bind, he said, forces MU to rely more on corporate dollars for funding and fosters anger among tuition-paying parents.

Add in Missouri’s decline in rank from 73 to 91 in the U.S. News and World Report since 2004, and the end result is a significant drop in the quality of education, Miller said.

“What this all means is that Missouri’s students, the general public and the paying parents are being cheated,” he said. “Missouri students are paying higher tuition and fees to come to Missouri, but the competitive market value of the education is declining. That’s the bottom line.”

He added that Compete Missouri will only make matters worse.

The faculty also plans to talk about relationships between MU administration and faculty that “arguably impede a fully rational and efficient mobilization and utilization of MU’s strengths and resources,” according to the text of the petition.

Mathematics professor Stephen Montgomery-Smith said he believes MU is not being transparent enough about its budget, and improper spending cuts have been made, resulting in “cutting the lean and leaving the fat.” He said taxpayers’ money has been wasted in recent years, resulting in failures both from an academic and a financial point of view.

“I think the state is being robbed blind,” Montgomery-Smith said. “Part of it is underfunding. But part of it, too, is that we’re not making the best use of the funds we’ve been given.”

Johnson said the ultimate goal of the meeting is to freeze any action taken on Compete Missouri for another year, until the full impact of the program can be assessed. She said she hopes the meeting will be the first step toward re-establishing communication between administration and faculty.

Johnson said professors emeritus have told her about times when attendance at faculty meetings was in the hundreds. She said she wants a more vocal approach to the special meeting to spark renewed and continued interest in MU’s well-being.

“Anyone who cares about the university and about their students has to feel the need to take some kind of action,” she said.

MU spokesman Christian Basi said MU is looking forward to discussing the faculty’s concerns at the meeting, and officials want to discuss the issues.

“We also want to clarify the process of how we’ve arrived where we are today, not only from a financial standpoint, but also in terms of how the Compete Missouri plan was developed,” he said.

Previously, Deaton has said the plan would enable MU to meet its most significant financial challenges, with competitive salaries being a principal concern. He said in a news release last summer that the state of Missouri and its students must be able to successfully compete economically, in terms of jobs and graduate education. He said MU must have high-quality faculty and staff to be successful.

Deaton has also said, however, that maintaining such success requires MU to look internally to address new needs generated by record enrollment, fundraising and campus construction.

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Pat McDermott December 10, 2008 | 12:05 a.m.

Regarding a Special Meeting by a Homeowner of an Association, is it necessary to send to the secretary the Petition and the purpose of the meeting together? I sent the purpose first, then the Petition. Does this make the meeting with voting invalid?
Pat McD

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