COLUMBIA — Academic departments have been freed to fill two-thirds of the positions left open at the end of last year to meet the goals of Compete Missouri.
Thanks in part to higher-than-expected revenue, Chancellor Brady Deaton released about 50 vacant positions to deans to allow for new hires, said MU spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken.
The decision to release the vacant positions comes after months of controversy surrounding Compete Missouri, a measure designed to make faculty salaries competitive with peer institutions.
More than half of the $7 million initiative was to be funded by leaving open faculty and staff positions vacant. Some faculty members — and the MU chapter of the American Association of University Professors in particular — had argued that the hiring freeze could result in fewer and larger classes and fewer specialty courses.
Because of Compete Missouri, MU faculty received an average pay raise of 7.1 percent this year, Banken said.
"Because of our increased enrollment and because Compete Missouri is working, the chancellor has said that the colleges and schools can go forward and recruit for about two-thirds of those positions," she said.
MU's first-day enrollment in August saw an overall 6 percent increase over last year, and first-time freshman enrollment increased by 15.6 percent, according to previous Missourian reports.
Michael O'Brien, dean of the College of Arts and Science, said he anticipates hiring about 20 people this year. Departments in the college will be eligible for open positions based on factors such as enrollment needs, opportunities to hire faculty from minority groups and the impact new hires could have on doctoral programs.
O'Brien said that the addition of 20 faculty members will have a "tremendous" effect on the college.
"Every faculty member we have here wants to see his or her department be one of the best in the country," he said, adding that it starts with the faculty and being able to recruit new hires.
More faculty members also means more classes and course sections offered, which means students "get what they need," O'Brien said.
Thomas Phillips, Faculty Council chair and a professor in the biological sciences department, said the expectation had always been that at least some of the open positions would eventually be given back.
"It was never meant for all of (the positions) not to be filled," Phillips said. "We never thought we'd lose every one of the positions."
The last third of open positions will remain unfilled for now, Banken said. MU administration will continue to evaluate the budget and economic situation before deciding whether to give those positions back to the deans.
Phillips said he is hopeful that the remaining third of open positions would be given back later this year.