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For MU budget director, retirement means even longer lists

Wednesday, December 26, 2012 | 8:38 a.m. CST
Tim Rooney, MU budget director, is retiring Dec. 31. He says he has a long list of activities he wants to pursue.

COLUMBIA — Tim Rooney has a list.

In April, it's Augusta, Ga., for the Master's Golf Tournament. After that, it's a beach house vacation in Fort Morgan, Ala., with his wife, Karin, and their three grown children. A stack of biographies, smattering of presidential museums, triathlon training and a trip to Sweden could follow. 

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There are dozens of items to scratch off Rooney's "bucket list." The growing document saved on his computer desktop does not include one thing, however: Chloe, his 12-year-old bulldog. 

"She complicates our travel plans since we treat her like royalty," Rooney, 62, said. "Finding someone to dog-sit can be really difficult."

For 10 years, the MU budget director has put his bucket list on the sideline to focus on managing lists of a far different kind — numbers, estimates, figures and, of course, budgets.

But in August, Rooney announced he'd try tackling his bucket list by retiring at the end of the year. In January, he'll hand the budget reins to Rhonda Gibler, current MU associate vice provost for MU Extension management.

"I love this university," said Rooney, who has worked at MU for 36 years. "But I need some separation from the campus to catch my breath. There have been a lot of numbers and a lot of math."

Moving out

Rows of neat manila folders form symmetrical lines behind Rooney's desk and alongside his printer. Labels, written in slanted style with a felt-tip pen, identify different areas of budgeting. A decorative pillow reading, "My goal in life is to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am," rests above his desk.

In 305 Jesse Hall earlier this month, moving boxes were nowhere in sight. 

"I'll probably start thinking of packing in a few weeks," Rooney said. "There's no good time to transition. There is no down time. It's not like during spring break or semester break. Our work never changes or stops here."

The looming threat of fewer unrestricted operating funds, which consist mainly of tuition and state support, has Rooney crunching numbers instead of clearing out his office supplies. 

Despite record-breaking enrollment, Missouri's Senate Bill 389 prevents the University of Missouri System from increasing tuition above the rate of inflation. That means that in recent years, MU has had to do more with less money.

Jim Spain, vice provost for undergraduate studies, said Rooney's retirement has left many people anxious.

"The announcement that he was going to be retiring created a great deal of uncertainty," Spain said. "Most were really anxious about the loss of his expertise and institutional memory."

Rooney said he thinks budgeting for less is the biggest issue MU will face in the spring. 

"The financial situation of the university has not been good for so many years," Rooney said. "That's what I deal with. It's exhausting trying to figure out how we are going to put together a balanced budget under trying circumstances."

Moving in

Gibler, 43, has the experience to crunch numbers. 

As associate vice provost for Extension management, Gibler led a committee that created a three-year plan to investigate fee generation and review revenue generation policy.

In her free time, she doubles as a math tutor for her three children. Her expertise? Fractions, equations and calculus. 

Effective Jan. 1, she will succeed Rooney as MU's new budget director.  

"This feels like it came together because it's how it was meant to be," she said. "The university needs people to stand up and say, 'I'm willing to take on new responsibilities.' I felt kind of called to serve. On the other side, I was ready."

Rooney said he was confident about his replacement.

"I'm really happy about Rhonda being selected," he said. "She is really analytical. She has a good way of assessing and thinking a situation through. The more I'm around her, the more I'm comfortable about leaving because she is going to do good."

Moving on

As Gibler makes the transition to handle larger numbers, Rooney said he plans to downsize to smaller ones — starting with Sudoku — although it isn't on his list.

"I am terrible at things like Sudoku," he said. "My wife is great at them, and she can't even do math as well as me. It's kind of ironic. Maybe I'll have the time now to learn how to do puzzles."

Rooney said he did not think parting from MU would be hard.

"I don't think it will be difficult to leave, but you can ask me after I'm gone," he said with a smile. "I've got a whole list of things to do to keep me busy."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.


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