COLUMBIA — After weeks of turbulent economic activity, UM System President Gary Forsee has ordered a systemwide hiring freeze, effective Monday.
The freeze will apply to open positions and searches currently under way and will affect administrative, staff and faculty positions.
“This action will provide us with the optimal flexibility to plan while ensuring that our mission as a university is viewed as part of the solution, not just a cost to the citizens of our state,” Forsee said in a memo sent to faculty and staff on Monday.
Forsee has also asked UM System staff and each campus’ chancellor to review and prioritize every expense “to be sure we can provide resources for the future,” he said in the memo.
Forsee said the UM System must be prepared to be flexible with those resources to accommodate one of its highest priorities – maintaining competitive faculty and staff salaries.
“We also want to protect the quality of the student experience in light of unprecedented enrollment growth and ensure that new and existing programs are properly supported,” Forsee said.
The hiring freeze is not a response to any issues with the system’s current budget, said Betsy Rodriguez, UM System vice president for human resources.
Instead, it’s a “prudent measure” to prepare the four campuses for potentially difficult economic times, particularly with uncertainty as to what could happen with the system’s two sources of revenue, tuition and state funding, Rodriguez said.
Earlier this year, about 50 vacant positions were re-opened and released to MU deans.
Michael O’Brien, dean of MU’s College of Arts and Science, had anticipated hiring 20 people this year; he has now suspended those searches and said the college will simply move forward as is.
But he said the college is adequately staffed to offer the classes already on the spring 2009 – and possibly the fall 2009 – course list.
Thomas Phillips, MU Faculty Council chair and a professor in the biological sciences department, said he hopes the freeze will be at least partially unfrozen to allow for hiring in critical areas, such as capstone and writing-intensive courses.
“It’s important that we don’t dilute the MU experience,” he said. “We don’t want to let quality suffer, (and) I’m afraid it’s going to be very difficult (to maintain quality) if we don’t do some hiring in key areas.”
Phillips said that being able to hire faculty and staff will become increasingly important as this year’s freshman class begins taking upper-level classes — many of which are smaller than introductory classes. The need for additional faculty could continue if MU expects another record-sized freshman class in fall 2009.
Phillips said he also hopes that the university will allow case-by-case appeals to justify some hiring.