Last week's billion-dollar triumph for our university almost got lost in the furor over the election. So before we turn our attention to the fiscal frustration that lurks just a couple of pages ahead in the calendar, let's pause to celebrate.
To paraphrase Chancellor Emeritus Richard Wallace, who ever could have imagined that our middle-of-the-pack university out here in the middle of nowhere could raise that much money? Never mind that the University of Illinois has done nearly $3 billion. This is Missouri, where we're cheap and proud of it.
Somehow Chancellors Wallace and Deaton, their hard-working dollar chasers and an astonishing number of generous supporters pulled it off. A billion dollars, it turns out, buys quite a bit. There are 1,500 scholarships, 86 newly endowed faculty positions, $448 million worth of new or improved programs and facilities and $223 million in research funds.
(Disclosure: I'm a beneficiary. I'm being allowed to camp out this year in the spiffy new Reynolds Journalism Institute.)
OK, now that we've celebrated, it's back to the dark side. What that billion doesn't buy are assistant professors and the teaching assistants to handle the flood of new students that have pushed enrollment near the 30,000 goal once enunciated by former UM system president Elson Floyd. That flood seems likely to crest next fall.
Donors hardly ever want to underwrite the basics. Understandably, they want their names on something new and, preferably, highly visible. The basics — from steam pipes to classrooms and what goes on in them — are supposed to be provided by the state. This is, after all, the flagship campus of Missouri's top-tier university.
Supposed to be, I said. In fact, as we know, Missouri stands near the bottom in its support of higher education. Less than half of MU's budget now comes from the state. Tuition revenue provides a bigger share than does the legislature. There's no reason to expect that to change in the next session of the General Assembly.
The ills of the automobile industry are already being felt in Columbia and across the state as the Big Three Losers and their suppliers cut back and close down. Tax revenues are already declining. The state government budget surplus predicted for the current fiscal year is already shrinking. Nobody thinks we've hit bottom.
You probably saw the news story a few days ago in which the Republican leaders of the legislature welcomed our new Democratic governor by telling him they're not going to restore Medicaid coverage to the victims of the Blunt budget axe. There's no money, they said.
And that was Governor-elect Nixon's top priority. University funding wasn't at the top of his or anybody else's list. When the little band of liberals we elected to represent Columbia in the House of Representatives announced this week their big goal for the session, it was campaign reform and early voting. As much as anything, I thought, that's a recognition of budgetary and political reality.
I hope our celebratory mood sees us through the holiday season. Come January, the facts we'll have to face won't be much fun.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.