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GEORGE KENNEDY: 'Emaciated' MU can't take any more cuts

Thursday, December 18, 2008 | 3:41 p.m. CST; updated 11:38 a.m. CST, Friday, December 19, 2008

The headline at the top of the Missourian's front page Thursday captured the substance of the general faculty meeting on Wednesday afternoon. "MU chancellor gives few details about budget cuts," it read.

The details that were given by Budget Director Tim Rooney were sufficiently depressing. The number I focused on was this: $58.6 million. That is, Mr. Rooney showed us, the worst-case projected deficit for the campus next year if the state appropriation is cut by 25 percent.

Chancellor Brady Deaton did reveal that, so far, he has received more than 400 suggestions from faculty, staff and students for coping with the crisis. Already, there's been one concrete result. Campus thermostats have been turned down from 72 to 70. Next summer, they'll be turned up from 74 to 76. Projected savings for the year: $120,000. Cutting another $58.48 million won't be that easy. The chancellor invited more suggestions.

Here's mine: Don't try. Don't slash the budget by 25 or even 15 percent. The fat has long since been trimmed. This institution is lean, even emaciated.

Another relevant number: 78.5 percent. That's how much of the campus budget goes to salaries, wages and benefits this year. So when the chancellor said he has "no anticipation" of layoffs or cuts in salaries and benefits, he might better have said that there's no hope of achieving such major cuts without going deep into the personnel budget.

What to do instead, you ask? The only other choice is to raise revenue. That means raising tuition. The math is simple enough for even a journalist to attempt.

We currently have 30,200 students, and administrators expect another significant increase in enrollment next year. (Something you might whisper in the legislature's collective ear: MU enrollment has increased by 25 percent since 2001. Back then, our state appropriation was $193 million. This year it's $189 million. But I digress.)

So, if tuition were to be raised by an average of $1,500 per semester, the additional revenue from 30,000 students would be roughly $90 million for the year. This is journalist's math, so I'm not calculating part-time students or, on the other hand, summer school.

But wait, you say; we have lots of students who can't pay at the current rate. That's true. Christian Basi in the MU News Bureau got me the numbers. This year 11,972 students are receiving need-based financial aid that averages $3,206 per student.

So, set aside half that extra tuition revenue for financial aid. That would allow more aid for those students who need help, while those able to pay the full bill would pay more. Yes, you're right. This is the private university model, minus their big endowments. But isn't that the direction we're headed?

The net revenue gain then would be about $45 million. Now remove from Mr. Rooney's worksheet the raises that would be hard to justify in a recession anyway, and the gap closes by another $12 million or so. Recapture half of the $2.3 million that's now going to the athletics department, and we're there. (Don't forget the $120,000 we're saving by temperature control.)

I told you the math is pretty simple. The politics will be more complicated. In the first place, there's Senate Bill 389. The curators can't raise tuition by more than the inflation rate — currently about 1 percent, Mr. Rooney pointed out — unless the Coordinating Board for Higher Education approves. So there's a selling job to be done.

Fortunately, we have in Gary Forsee, the university's Salesman in Chief, a guy who thinks big. How big? He's urging inclusion of the university's infrastructure needs in the stimulus package promised by President-to-be Barack Obama. He also has commissioned a public opinion survey, the results of which suggest a willingness by Missourians to support more funding of higher education.

He can sell to the Coordinating Board and the legislature the university's impact on not only the culture but the economy of the state. Both are greater than is generally recognized. And he might want to quote Robert Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities, the organization of the nation's top 60 universities. Our university joined 100 years ago. Mr. Berdahl came to celebrate that centennial and spoke of the increasing world-wide investment in higher education.

"In this context, it would be utterly foolhardy to move in the opposite direction and allow the excellence we have built in our public research universities to decline," he said in his address. "While it may take several decades to build a world-class university, it takes much less time to destroy one by neglect."

If the legislature won't support the university, and the record shows that it won't, the university must be allowed to support itself. Of course, foolhardy neglect is another option.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.


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Comments

Ellis Smith December 18, 2008 | 4:51 p.m.

At least in theory if not also in practice, doesn't a state legislature represent the state's taxpayers? Are we to believe that Missouri taxpayers are quite eager for an increase in higher education funding but that the legislature is consistently acting against their wishes?

As for "emaciation," there are varying degrees of emaciation. One of the four campuses has eliminated an entire layer of hierarchy. And the others?

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand December 18, 2008 | 5:33 p.m.

How ironic: We're told that if we, as Missouri residents, value higher education and all of the benefits that come with it, then we should be willing to pay more for it. But students and parents who value higher education and all of the benefits that come with it shouldn't also be willing to pay more?

(Report Comment)
Robert craig December 19, 2008 | 11:01 a.m.

Working in the private sector and being quite familiar with slashing costs, this is familiar territory. Being a higher education neophite in terms of administration, I find it hard to believe that we'd want to penalize people that attend the university just because "they can afford it". This thinking is what leads to those people bearing a large share of the tax burden. Pretty soon that golden goose will tire of laying the golden egg.
It seems like a wholesale review of what's considered a sacred cow within the higher education system would be needed. Such as how many professors are actually in the classroom vs a teaching assistant. How many programs on campus REALLY need to be funded. None of these are popular but now is the time to truly revamp and actually improve the way business is conducte in higher education.

(Report Comment)
timtim December 19, 2008 | 3:16 p.m.

As someone who just paid $9600 dollars for a 1/2 year of vet school that article REALLY ______ me off.

I tried to look up George Kennedy's salary to see how much fat we could cut off of him but I was unable to find it.

I reckon about 25,000 per year is enough for him. If he wants more he should remove himself from his cushy office and get a real job. If he wants to teach than he should do it for that. I'm quite sure he makes about 4 times that at least. I really do not think that a straight 25% decrease in pay would be unreasonable for those making over 50k a year at MU.

I know what you are thinking......how will the students learn without these brilliant professors? I suppose they will continue to learn from the graduate students the same way they are now.

THANK GOD that our legislature had the brains to limit these crooks on their tuition increases.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand December 19, 2008 | 3:37 p.m.

He's retired, so you would have to look him up in an older edition of the Blue Book.

I don't know about journalism, but if faculty in some of the other disciplines (e.g., English, history) want to try to find a better gig at another school, good luck. Unless you're a big name in the field, there aren't a lot of openings, let alone ones that pay well. Add in the challenge of selling a house, and it's clear that most MU faculty will just grin and bear it.

(Report Comment)
Rob Matyska December 19, 2008 | 6:19 p.m.

Sorry, but I believe this article is on target and is the sort of tough medicine we need to be able to swallow to keep an amazing institution strong and viable.

And trust me, I know from budget cuts to a once-stellar program. I graduated with my PhD in 1996 and my program was decimated by budget cuts, realignment, and reorganization. What was once THE PREMIERE program in the nation is not even represented at Mizzou any longer--at any/all levels, PhD, EDSp, MEd, and BSEd. The department was long part of the top five programs in the country, well respected among peer institutions, and produced graduates that were highly-sought-after upon graduation (I know, I was highly recruited). Now, it's just a memory at Ol' Mizzou, never to produce another graduate....EVER.

Budget cuts are hard, the state appropriations are never enough, and alternate sources of funding (especially in this economy) are all but impossible to secure. But if we value our FLAGSHIP INSTITUTION, we need to rally around Her and support Her and keep Her healthy and strong. If you think public education is too expensive in Missouri, look beyond your borders to places like the University of Michigan, UCLA, and more. Then you will see what a value/bargain the Black and Gold truly is.

(Report Comment)
timtim December 19, 2008 | 10:02 p.m.

Rob,

You are right that this robbery is going on across the country. The medicine that Mizzou needs is the same that practically all public institutions need.

You should read the article about this in Money Magazine from about 2-3 months ago. University Presidents acknowledging that they have no reason to control costs because the higher they raise the price the better education people feel they provide.

Its a cycle of stupidity and it starts with the parents/high school students who are tricked into picking their school based upon the rec center and a football record.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin December 19, 2008 | 10:04 p.m.

Everyone here is wrong because you're all fooled by the old canard: government cuts where it hurts the most, so that raising taxes, tuitions, and other revenue sources is easier next time around.

You see MU cutting athletics? Coach Pinkel's salary? Is Coach Forsee taking a 25% pay slice?

No way. That's because the other half of the old canard is that there's always money where the big guys want it.

We shouldn't cut budgets nor raise tuition. We should insist that we value education, period, and will fund it well, period. It's what we do with athletics and administrators and should be what we do with academics as well.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand December 20, 2008 | 9:53 a.m.

CH, our society does not value education. If it did, newspapers would have a daily, several-page section about education issues and achievements, just as they do with sports. Instead, newspapers pay lip service to education because it's a reflection of what society does.

(Report Comment)

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