MU faculty discusses Mizzou Advantage, budget woes

Thursday, October 22, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 10:44 a.m. CDT, Thursday, October 22, 2009

COLUMBIA — MU administrators presented a mix of sobering facts and optimistic plans at a faculty meeting Wednesday.

MU was one of the few public universities in the American Association of Universities not to face state budget cuts this past year, Chancellor Brady Deaton said.

But MU's budget for fiscal year 2011 is uncertain, he said.

MU's $189 million in state funding includes $21 million in federal stabilization funding that will expire next year, MU Budget Director Tim Rooney said. Although Missouri's state budget won't be set until next year, Rooney doesn't think it's likely that the lost federal funding will be replaced by the state.

A tuition increase would be likely, Rooney said, but by state law, MU can only increase tuition at the same rate as increases in the Consumer Price Index. Between December and September, the CPI was 2.7 percent, Rooney said, and he anticipates that the final CPI will be approximately 3 percent.

If indications about state appropriations are bleak, Rooney said that the University of Missouri System could petition the Department of Higher Education to waive the requirement. But MU is reluctant to recommend dramatic tuition increases, he said.

"We're concerned about access for those who have need," Rooney said.

Tuition and state appropriations are the two largest sources of funding for MU, Rooney said, but their share of the budget has changed dramatically over time. Since 1990, the percentage of the budget coming from tuition has doubled, and the percentage coming from state funding has nearly halved.

But despite challenges presented by the financial climate, Deaton said MU must continue to improve.

"Now's not the time to be sitting in a garrison position," Deaton said.

To this end, Provost Brian Foster discussed specifics of Mizzou Advantage, a $6 million-a-year strategic plan to focus on five interdisciplinary areas of strength.

The target areas of specialization are food-related research; new media; human and animal health; sustainable energy; and “transformational” technologies.

These focus areas will be overseen by faculty facilitators, who will "stimulate discussion," Foster said, to create "dynamic, collaborative networks."

Faculty facilitators will receive an annual stipend of $40,000 beyond their current salaries, and Foster said that they will be chosen before the end of the fall semester.

Mizzou Advantage provides departments with matching funds — $50,000 each — for hiring 25 new faculty members in the next five years who can, Foster said, "bridge gaps" between departments.

Additionally, Mizzou Advantage aims to add up to four highly decorated faculty members — members of the National Academy of Science or Pulitzer Prize winners, for example — with ties to MU. The university budgeted $250,000 in matching funds for each new hire.

The program hopes to increase the visibility of MU and bring a target of 30,000 more visitors to campus each year for academic conferences and events.

Deaton said it will play a major role in future fundraising efforts.

"Ideas are what feed the private giving we've been successful at," Deaton said.

Deaton said after the meeting that the goal of Mizzou Advantage is to place MU at the forefront of education.

"We started out on the frontier in 1839," Deaton said. "The challenge is to be a true frontier university."

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