Compete Missouri might enhance MU’s reputation

Saturday, May 10, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:34 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Chancellor Brady Deaton said Thursday’s faculty meeting was the biggest he could remember. Having been around longer, I remember a couple. One was during the Ashcroft-Cozad era of slash and burn. The other was when the faculty voted no confidence in soon-to-be-ex-President Bryce Ratchford.

Thursday’s meeting was different. As I sat with several hundred others, in a nearly full Bush Auditorium, I thought that this session was more a sharing of frustrations than the outpouring of anger at those earlier conclaves. Eddie Adelstein, the pathologist and congenital pot-stirrer, who helped summon this meeting, set the tone when he said his own concerns were “more spiritual than fiscal.” (Then he made an unfortunate comparison between himself and the late City Council gadfly Paul Albert. But nevermind.)

Provost Brian Foster said, “I’m frustrated, too. The question is what are we going to do about it?”

The administration’s answer, laid out in great detail with a big-screen Power Point presentation, is “Compete Missouri.” The chancellor and provost were careful to give the credit (or hang the blame) for this plan on Gordon Lamb, the highly regarded veteran who served as interim president and now sits at the right hand of President Forsee.

Compete Missouri is a three-year deal that calls for the state government to increase university appropriations, and for the campuses to generate matching funds by cutting the payroll. The new money, it is hoped, will raise MU’s faculty salaries from the bottom of its peer group to the mid-point.

If both sides keep their promise, the three years will end with fewer but richer faculty and, it is also and even more fervently hoped, an enhanced reputation for the flagship campus.

In its first year, Provost Foster reported, the deal seems to be working even better than expected. The legislature looks to be keeping its end of the bargain, the campus is cutting about 60 faculty positions, and it appears that the faculty raise pool for next year will be between 5.5 percent and 7 percent — a bonanza by recent standards. Of course, the hard-pressed staff will, as usual, get lower raises; but a university’s ranking by U.S. News doesn’t depend on staff morale.

Big raises work even better than free food to ameliorate faculty anguish, and the numbers drew the biggest applause of the afternoon.

At times, it seemed to me that the faculty and administrators were talking past each other. For example, history professor Kerby Miller, in an eloquent little speech, pointed out that the university’s fiscal troubles don’t result from an act of nature. “This is an artificial crisis created in Jefferson City,” he said. Then he asked, “Is there a major discrepancy” between the faculty concept of a university and the vision of our masters downriver?

Diplomatically, Brady and Brian didn’t answer. Instead, their real response is to accept the political hand they’ve been dealt and try to make a winner of it. I can’t fault that.

I do question, though, Provost Foster’s repeated use of the term “world-class” to describe our university. That’s aspiration rather than accuracy.

Will Compete Missouri get us there? I guess we’ll see.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian.

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Ellis Smith May 11, 2008 | 7:24 a.m.

Why would any sane, reasonable person put the emphasis on reducing faculty positions versus reducing administrative positions? How much teaching and/or research is done by administrators?

As for assertions such as "world-class" and "flagship campus," thanks for the laughs. "Flagship campus," meaning the Good Ship "Titanic Tiger"! Folks at the Kansas City, Rolla and St. Louis campus can always use a good laugh.

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