When carving budgets, start from the top

Sunday, May 6, 2007 | 10:29 a.m. CDT; updated 8:08 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Kennedy is a professor emeritus at the MU School of Journalism.

The Missourian reported last week that the University of Missouri System Board of Curators has ordered each campus to carve 1 percent from next year’s budget to sweeten the pot for faculty salaries. For the flagship campus, that will come to about $4.2 million. (As the Missourian noted in one of those helpful little charts, MU’s budget is almost as big as the budgets of the three satellite campuses combined.)

Professor Rex Campbell, chairman of the campus Faculty Council, dutifully sent an e-mail to the faculty soliciting our suggestions. He also spelled out the ground rules. Tenure must be respected, he said. And no proposing the elimination of a campus or the central administration.

Far be it from me to venture outside the rules. But mightn’t it be possible to squeeze a few nickels from the $42 million “system administration” budget before we have to start laying off vice chancellors and associate deans?

Like many of you, I suspect, I’ve never been quite clear just what the “system administration” actually does, or what really goes on in that big building between the soccer stadium and the golf course. So in search of enlightenment, I went to the Web site. That’s just one of the chores a journalist does so you don’t have to.

I learned, for example, that our university has had 21 presidents, not counting Interim President Gordon Lamb. (There’s a statue to President Jesse in front of the hall that bears his name, but hardly a trace of any of the other presidents. It seems a pretty good guess, though, that number 22 will get paid more than the first 20 combined. That’s just an observation.)

Then I learned that the system administration comprises eight departments: Academic Affairs, Finance and Administration, General Counsel, Government Relations, Human Resources, Information Technology, Research and Economic Development and University Communications.

Still mainly ignorant of what lies behind those titles, I pressed on, saving you no end of time and trouble.

Academic Affairs, it turns out, must be first among equals, because it is headed by a “senior vice president.” That senior V.P. oversees a dazzling array of programs that include the Alzheimer’s Program, the eMINTS program and — something I’ll bet you didn’t know — “UM Homeland Security.” Guarding the president’s mansion? The nuclear reactor? If we were supposed to know, I guess they’d tell us.

Finance and Administration rates only a regular vice president, who is the keeper of the “Finance and Administration Strategic Plan.” That’s not the plan for saving the 1 percent, we must assume.

The General Counsel’s office has eight staff attorneys.

Government Relations lists a vice president, an assistant vice president, an assistant to the vice president and five directors. It also includes an exciting section labeled “New.” That’s the “Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative.” You may know it as the “MOHELA Shuffle.” Look closely and you’ll find reproduced the curators’ resolution of Jan. 27, 2006, thanking the governor. The “Fact Sheet” bears the same date and no more relationship to reality. All those directors must be too busy to notice.

I quit reading there. Maybe we can fire a few more custodians.

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