My attempt last week to analyze the fight over the University of Missouri Press in the broader context of the changing nature of the university itself led to a lively few days in the comments section of the online Missourian.
I was accused of endorsing developments I decried. University decision-makers were described as miscreants. Professor Lois Huneycutt of the MU Department of History eloquently defended the Press, especially for its importance in chronicling the story of our state. Professor Stephen Montgomery-Smith even brought into the fray Theodore Roosevelt, who extolled the virtues of the combatant as opposed to the wimpiness of the observer.
This week, I’ll try to be clearer. I’ll also share a few numbers that I see as evidence of the ongoing makeover of our university into something more closely resembling a business corporation.
First, though, a brief update: After receiving an email from Professor Huneycutt, I called Professor Harry Tyrer, who chairs the MU Faculty Council. He told me that both President Timothy Wolfe and Chancellor Brady Deaton have agreed to meet with the executive committee of the council to discuss its resolution, adopted last week, calling on the president to delay action and engage in discussion with the faculty. When we talked Thursday, he was still trying to arrange that conversation.
He also told me that the council will take up the subject again at its Aug. 23 meeting, as it considers points raised in a resolution adopted July 24 by the American Association of University Professors chapter. A central issue, he said, is the faculty’s level of confidence in a campus-run Press.
Last week, I described the administration’s handling of the Press and the laying off of its staff as ham-handed and sorely lacking in the transparency and faculty involvement we should expect in a university. I also argued that both the decision and the manner in which it was made are more typical of the corporate world.
That’s the world into which, for better or for worse, we are being led. I fear we’re experiencing the latter, but I can understand the pressures of rising costs and diminishing state support that have pushed the institution in this direction.
Here’s what I mean. (These numbers came from campus budget master Tim Rooney. The adjustments for inflation were made by my friend Steve Scott, who sent them to me.)
In 2002, MU received from the state $201 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $257 million today. In fiscal 2012, state support actually amounted to only $178 million.
State funding in 2002 supplied 18 percent of the total campus revenue. In 2012, it supplied just 9 percent.
Meanwhile, over that same period, the annual cost of tuition and room and board for an in-state student has increased from $8,781 (or $11,201 in 2012 dollars) to $16,088.
Our customers — I mean students — paid 13 percent of total campus revenue in 2002. Now they pay 19 percent.
The university-as-corporation clearly can no longer count on the legislature and governor for adequate support. So it does what any business would and turns to another revenue source. That’s also why the university is working harder, and succeeding, at luring the out-of-state students who pay even more.
Corporations, of course, seek to maximize the number of customers while holding down costs and commitments to employees. A few more numbers tell how well MU has done at both.
In the decade from 2002 through 2011, enrollment increased by about 29 percent, to 33,805. This year, we’re likely to top 35,000.
Meanwhile, the number of regular tenure-track faculty grew by only 3.4 percent. The number of non-regular faculty, or those not on a tenure track, grew by 86 percent. In some divisions, including the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, the College of Human Environmental Sciences and the Missouri School of Journalism, the number of regular faculty actually shrank during the decade.
So we’re teaching more students with less expensive faculty. For a corporation, that’s a great model. For a university, especially one that aspires to being world-class, it’s not so great.
In that context, the fate of the Press might not appear to be such a big deal. We’re only talking, after all, about 10 employees (none of them faculty, as a Faculty Council member noted inhumanely last week) and a subsidy that may — or may not, depending on who you believe — amount to about $400,000 a year.
Defenders of the Press-that-was see the struggle as one that goes to the heart of what a university is and what it should do. Proponents of the proposed new model see themselves as embarking on a necessary experiment that holds the promise of saving money while tying the Press more closely to campus teaching and research.
Like the defenders, I wish the Press could carry on as it has. I just don’t think that’s going to happen in a corporate university.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.