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DEAR READER: No passing grade for MU budget

Saturday, January 28, 2012 | 4:37 p.m. CST; updated 4:20 p.m. CST, Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dear Reader,

What would your response be if I told you a local company was pulling $21 million out of the Columbia economy?

A letter from MU Chancellor Brady Deaton

MU Faculty, Staff and Students:

Yesterday, I sent you the letter I signed with fellow Chancellors and Interim President Steve Owens expressing concerns about the Governor’s recommended budget and its implication for the University of Missouri System.  The purpose of this message is to convey information specifically related to MU and to express my concern about the budget and the commitment of campus administration to direct resources strategically to our core mission.  I want to re-emphasize the three key principles stated in the co-signed letter:

  • Our top priority is to continue to maintain and enhance the quality of the student academic experience;
  • Any budget reductions or reallocations will be consistent with the vision and strategic priorities outlined in campus and system strategic plans; and
  • We will make hard decisions about what we will continue to do with available resources, determine what we can no longer continue to do, and develop a plan to discontinue the latter.

As we determine specific steps to respond to the realities of our budget, we need to understand the critical position of our university:

  • MU developed strategies to overcome shortfalls in state funding in the past few years by attracting the highest ever enrollment of Missouri resident and out-of-state students, garnering record research funding, raising a billion plus dollars in private support, and forming new private and global partnerships. Doing more with less is a hallmark of our university and defines our approach to achieving greater efficiencies.  However, continued focus on efficiencies inhibits our ability to be effective and puts pressure on maintaining our quality in both education and research. We cannot responsibly continue on this pathway while our budget continues to erode.
  • MU’s portion of state appropriation dropped from $193 million in FY 2001 to $166 million in FY 2012. If the Governor’s budget becomes reality, the university’s state appropriation will fall below the FY1995 level, since which time we have experienced a 52 percent gain in enrollment. To the credit of our faculty and staff, we continue to serve these growing numbers with careful planning designed to achieve operating efficiencies and through investments in strategic goals. Last year, MU provided $100 million from the campus budget for student financial aid and paid $50 million to student employees. While educating the next generation of health care professionals, the MU Health System also provides $59.1 million in uncompensated care and has a $2.2 billion economic impact on the state. Incremental proposed cuts to the Medicaid program are always of concern since our health system is a tier-one safety net provider for Missourians.
  • Unless the proposed budget from the state is modified or offset by tuition and private gifts, it will mean job losses, reductions in research and loss of top faculty to competitors, further deterioration of physical facilities, and cutbacks in Extension’s support for vital statewide needs. Almost certainly, it would mean lower national rankings of the university in publications heavily influenced by measures of financial inputs, rather than by quality of student achievement and scientific and scholarly contributions.  Missouri remains among the bottom five states in the nation in per capita support of public higher education.  Missouri’s appropriation is by far the smallest among our eight bordering states. If you include both state funding and tuition, MU receives 20% less per student FTE than our AAU public peers.
  • The University of Missouri has been the state’s partner in serving the best interests of Missourians for nearly 173 years. That partnership is even more important now in Missouri’s economic recovery plans. For example, in FY 2011, MU Extension’s Business Development Program alone created almost 6,000 jobs and stimulated investments in the state of $200 million.

Ultimately, the citizens of Missouri will determine the level of support that their taxes will provide our university. We will aggressively engage our students, alumni, faculty and staff with our constituents in a conversation that assures their understanding of the implications of these decisions. We need to make it clear that cutting our way to mediocrity is not an option.  We must focus and enhance our resources in new ways to serve our students and our state.

Our strategic plan will guide our decisions as to how we meet this budget challenge.  We will continue to look at ways of becoming more efficient without sacrificing quality in all that we do.

As always, I welcome your input and thank you for your commitment to excellence that has made MU one of the great flagship universities in the nation.

Brady J. Deaton, Ph.D.

Chancellor

A letter from Interim President Steve Owens and the chancellors of all four UM System chancellors is posted on the system president's website.


Related Media

What would you say if you knew the corporate CEO said there would be an undisclosed number of job cuts there as a result?

Columbia is a company town, and that company is higher education.

So when the governor pledges a $50 million cut in state appropriations for the University of Missouri System's budget, we all should take note.

The letters emanating from the UM System president and the MU chancellor are dire. They make compelling arguments for the value of higher ed. But after more than a decade of declining support from the state, the points sound all too familiar, at least to a General Assembly that finds higher ed a favorite punching bag.

The letters sent to faculty, staff and students from interim UM President Steve Owens and Chancellor Brady Deaton are polite. If I translated to the simplest terms, though, the message might be this:

Higher ed over the past decade has been successful — MU has increased enrollment by 52 percent, raised a billion dollars and held its own in various academic rankings, says Deaton, while state funding has dropped by $27 million since the ’01 fiscal year. But you can only stretch so far, and this time “doing more with less” hurts everyone in the state. Huh?

The economic fate of the biggest employer in town is a difficult story to tell when your window looks out at Jesse Hall. The trouble is one of distance more than allegiance.

The Missourian resides at a university address. It receives funding from the U. The paychecks of the editor-professors here say University of Missouri on them.  That graduation certificate on the wall at my house bears the university seal, and as do those of my wife.

Am I biased then? You bet. If I didn’t believe in the value of higher education, I wouldn’t be here. I’m grateful to have one of the best jobs I could ever imagine.

So how well has the Missourian covered the state appropriations issue over the years?

My hypothesis: Your newspaper has probably underreported it.

Don’t get me wrong. Each year, you’ve read a good bit as the political process wends its way through the state Capitol. You’ve heard the pronouncements from the governor’s office. You’ve watched as the curators try to figure out just how much they might raise tuition without invoking the wrath of Jefferson City.

Rinse and repeat.

But the Missourian could do more.

Part of the reason is in trying to correct for those affiliations — those biases — toward the university. Another reason: Editors ask their student staffs to turn outward. They want this next generation of journalists to connect to the larger community that is Columbia, not the insulated university world they’ve been exposed to previously.

If my hypothesis is correct, then your newspaper needs to do more this time. Not as cheerleader for MU, but as involved community member in College Town, Mo. Your ideas and opinion can help.

Thanks for listening.

Tom


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