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Impact of funding cuts will be felt 'across all dimensions,' Forsee says

Friday, December 19, 2008 | 3:23 p.m. CST; updated 5:53 p.m. CST, Friday, December 19, 2008
UM System President Gary Forsee and MU Chancellor Brady Deaton discuss the impact and uncertainty budget cuts pose for the Columbia campus.

COLUMBIA — UM System President Gary Forsee assured faculty, staff and students at a news conference Friday in University Hall that he is taking the possibilities of layoffs, tuition increases and the closure of programs very seriously.

“We know each and every one of these issues that have been identified in the last 24 hours, taken by themselves through the lens of a student or a faculty or staff member, are very disruptive,” Forsee said.

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Forsee submitted a report Thursday to the state Department of Higher Education that describes the potential impact to the system’s four campuses if they were to experience cuts in state funding of 15 percent, 20 percent or 25 percent. On Dec. 2, the department requested such a report from all of the state’s public universities and colleges.

Forsee said that regardless of how much the cuts amount to, “there will be impact across all dimensions of our university.” He said he will examine combinations of cost-cutting measures so that the impact is minimal and does not burden any one group.

But it is still too early to determine the specific impact or even how much the cuts would be.

MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said there is a “high degree of uncertainty of where we’ll end up budget-wise” in fiscal year 2010.

According to the report, students could see tuition increases or a decrease in the availability in scholarships. Forsee said he will fight to keep college as accessible and as affordable as possible for tuition-paying students and parents.

“Students are the lifeblood of our university,” Forsee said. “They will have no louder advocates (than the UM System).”

Forsee clarified the situation for faculty and staff, who could see layoffs or a shifting of priorities in their job duties. He acknowledged that layoffs are “in the mix” of possible impacts but “at the extreme” level.

As to the possibility that faculty might have to shift their focus from research, Deaton said MU’s research-centric mission would remain the same.

Deaton said a loss of state funding will have a “reasonably significant” effect on campuswide renovations. Some projects have been on hold, and deferred maintenance has been growing.

UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton, participating by conference call, joked that he was sitting in a cold building, and UMSL Chancellor Thomas George, also via phone, commented that he was calling from a building with a leaky roof.

But Deaton said administrators are taking measures to ensure the safety of buildings.

Forsee remains hopeful that such projects will receive funds. He announced at last week’s Board of Curators meeting that he hopes to include systemwide construction projects in President-elect Barack Obama’s public works construction program.

Deaton stressed that MU has already taken proactive measures to prepare for cuts in state funding. He said the systemwide hiring freeze, which has been in place for a month, was a “major step to reduce costs.” Travel and discretionary spending has also been decreased, he said.

Forsee said the system will work with Gov.-elect Jay Nixon and the General Assembly to create an awareness of the importance of higher education. Forsee also wants to ensure that the UM System is part of the solution.


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