Here’s a holiday tip: If you find yourself feeling too cheerful, too optimistic, too upbeat about the state of our university, just invite Tim Rooney to do five minutes on the budget.
He’ll reconnect you to reality and wrap a nice gray cloud around any silver lining.
At any rate, that’s how it went at Wednesday’s meeting of the general faculty.
Brady Deaton had the good news, no doubt a chancellor’s prerogative. All our indicators – well, all except the ones he left to Tim – are looking up:
- Enrollment is growing faster than any of our Association of American Universities peers.
- The six-year graduation rate is up to 68.9 percent, an all-time high.
- Minority enrollment is way up, too.
- The strategic planning process is drawing national praise.
- Federal research funding has hit another high at $116.9 million.
- Another $1 billion-plus capital campaign is in the planning stage.
Then he showed some comparisons to demonstrate that our new athletics home, the Southeastern Conference, is actually also superior academically to the Big 12.
For example, in research funding we rank second (to Texas) in the Big 12, but we’re seventh in the SEC. In memberships in the National Academy, we’re third in the Big 12 but fifth in the SEC. In students’ average SAT scores, we’re third in the Big 12, sixth in the SEC. You get the idea.
He summed up sunnily, “It’s incredible how much is getting done.”
A few minutes later, he called on the budget director. Tim didn’t hesitate to wipe the smiles off our faces.
The funding we receive from the state, he noted, now stands at the same level as in 1999. (That prompted professor Frank Schmidt to comment that the legislature, having taken us from the 21st century back to the 20th, seems to be hell-bent on reaching the 19th.)
Budget planners are currently working on the request for next year, FY 2013. Two scenarios are being planned — the same level of state funding as this year or a cut of 5 percent, which would leave us at the 1997 level.
Tuition and fees will likely be increased by the amount of the Consumer Price Index, all the law allows. Still, Tim reminded us, our tuition and required fees add up to less than the average of our peers among the AAU public universities and less than the average of the Big 12 or the SEC.
The closest he ventured to good news was to reveal that, if our rulers in the legislature don’t actually cut the budget again, there just might be room for a 3 percent salary increase. His tone suggested that we’d best not borrow against that raise.
After all that, it was almost a pleasure to listen as system Vice President Nikki Krawitz explained the new “performance funding” that will guide the state’s budget allocators from now on.
The Missourian has done a good job of explaining how that will work. Last week’s Mizzou Weekly carried a lengthy report of faculty foreboding.
Krawitz made so clear the futility of objection that I heard only subdued grumbles about the absence of performance measures that would reflect MU’s emphasis on graduate and professional education. Apparently, federal research dollars will serve as the proxy for all that.
Her concluding comments helped me understand why we shouldn’t lose too much sleep over any inequities. The new formula will only apply to additional funding, she explained. There won’t be any additional funding next year, so the formula won’t kick in until FY 2014.
Then she laughed, briefly and a little grimly, I thought, as she added that there might not be any increase that year either, or even 2015. So not to worry.
It was already dark as we left the auditorium.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.