MU Faculty Council debates potential effects of hiring freeze

Thursday, December 4, 2008 | 7:29 p.m. CST; updated 11:06 a.m. CST, Friday, December 5, 2008

COLUMBIA — The UM System hiring freeze was a hot topic at the MU Faculty Council meeting Thursday, though the discussion remained clouded with uncertainty.

Faculty members seemed unclear about what the freeze could mean for MU and what exceptions could be made for hiring, despite Chancellor Brady Deaton's Nov. 25 e-mail that sought to offer those clarifications.

In the letter, Deaton said fully funded external grants and contracts positions, fully funded gift or endowment positions and work study students funded by the federal government would be exceptions to the hiring freeze. He also listed criteria any other position must meet for it to be possibly filled.

But many faculty members still offered conflicting impressions of the freeze's impact, such as whether graduate-student assistantships would be frozen in the fall semester.

Jay Dow, an associate professor of political science, said that faculty members are still trying to understand what the freeze will mean. "The conversation is so fluid that we don't know exactly where we are," he said.

Tom Phillips, a professor of biological sciences and Faculty Council chairman, said he hopes to get an update on the freeze at next week's Intercampus Faculty Council meeting, which includes representatives from UM's four campuses.

"I think we will be in a better position at the next meeting to understand what's happening," Phillips said. "I do agree we need to watch (developments in the hiring freeze) very closely, and we are."

James McGlew, an associate professor of classical studies, urged the council to get involved in developing the policies that will determine which positions are approved to be filled and which criteria will apply. He said he would rather the council overstep its authority in responding to the freeze than do too little because of the harm he thinks the freeze could do to MU.

"When this is all done, this will be a very different university than it was last year," he said.

But other faculty members were hesitant to become so involved. Frank Schmidt, a professor of biochemistry and former Faculty Council chairman, said he thinks the council could have a say in policymaking but not in selecting which positions are filled.

The only action taken Thursday by the council was to approve a resolution urging MU administrators to alter a policy regarding inclement weather.

The current policy allows faculty to remain at home without taking a personal day of leave when classes have been canceled for weather reasons, according to the resolution. The proposed policy change would give the same benefit to staff members.

Phillips also said an amendment to MU's grievance procedure, which was approved in October, has been forwarded to the UM System Board of Curators. The amendment would add an administrator to the body that gathers and evaluates information related to a complaint.

Phillips anticipates the board will approve the amendment at its Dec. 12 meeting in St. Louis.

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