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MU unfairly values corporate model over academics

Wednesday, September 3, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT

President George Russell (1991 - 1996) early in his presidency began the process of raising tuition for the primary reason of providing a fair salary for the faculty and staff of the University of Missouri System. As more money was collected for tuition, the state legislature began to decrease funding for higher education.

Currently, the faculty salaries are at the bottom of the Big 12. The increased tuitions have been dedicated to almost anything except faculty salary increases. Administrative positions have skyrocketed and their salaries have not suffered. Entrepreneurial adventures have increased and money is spent first on anything except faculty and staff salaries. In this time of inflation and economic downturn, faculty salaries are so low that any mechanism that will provide financial relief appears acceptable to many of the faculty.

The adoption of the corporate model versus the academic one has been fulfilled with the hiring of a president with no academic experience, but with extensive business interests. The corporate model often does not really value employees and sees them as easily replaceable. Our selection of autocratic deans and chairs has further created a major schism between faculty and administration.

This has manifested itself with decreased tenured faculty and a marked increase in non-tenured faculty. The grievance process had been corrupted and only now is their some hope that a fair and equitable process may be developed. Even the Board of Curators has used its influence to support the private-practice orthopedic surgeons over the academic-oriented orthopedic department in the care of our own athletes. Money is the common denominator of all that drives this university.

In this atmosphere of contention it is not surprising that MU ranks 96 out of 124 by World News. Our classes are too large and the ratio of teachers to students is high. The projected increase in the freshman class by 20 percent puts us at risk to provide a good education to the freshman class.

The desperate financial state of many faculty has served as a strong impetus to find jobs at other universities where faculty is valued. The highly inappropriate response of our administration has been to develop and implement the "Compete Missouri" plan where additional monies are secured for faculty raises by sacrifices of both administrative and primary faculty activities, primarily teaching of students. This plan calls for the freezing of teaching positions as well as decreasing teaching assistants. This is based on the "Guppy principle," where to succeed you must eat your young. This is especially ill-timed based on a projected enrollment increase of 20 percent in the freshman class and the current ratings by World News. The "Compete Missouri" plan does not give an increase to all members of the faculty, but once again favoritism and control can be used by chairpersons to determine which faculty member benefits. The concept of sucking up remains a valuable tool for reward.

The chancellor and provost have refused to renegotiate this ill-advised plan and, in spite of opposition, stand firm in its implementation.

This plan can free up to $7 million for faculty increases and so is attractive to many faculty members. In a university with a budget of $1.1 billion, it would appear that an additional $7 million a year could be found for faculty raises without compromising our most fundamental service that is teaching to students. As it stands, the budget is constructed so that all university needs are met and then it is announced that there is no money left for faculty salaries. The budget should provide competitive salaries first for the faculty and staff and then figure out what ancillary activities or programs should be reduced or eliminated to provide for this money. The faculty appears to be of the lowest fiscal priority and this has a great impact upon the institutional spirit.

The AAUP chapter calls for new leadership approaches that value faculty and have creative ideas on how to both maintain a fair-priced, quality education and pay competitive salaries to staff and faculty.

Eddie Adelstein is president of the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors and a Columbia resident. 


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Comments

Ellis Smith September 4, 2008 | 3:57 a.m.

The first requirement of any university is to teach; research is very important, but is not the first requirement. Administration, and "ballooning" of administration, should NEVER come first. One campus of this university recently eliminated an entire administrative layer. The move was less to cut costs than to improve communication. Some of us are confused: Apparently these problems are only present at MU, because only MU is ever discussed. Maybe the other campuses of this university - with more than half of the university's students - don't exist, and so could not have similar problems.

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