MU’s budget plan draws faculty criticism

Tuesday, July 24, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:25 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA— When MU Chancellor Brady Deaton announced July 9 that the university’s new financial plan, Compete Missouri, would require an administrative “hold” on new teaching hires, he said the support of faculty would be important to the plan’s chances for success.

“It will involve a great deal of discussion,” Deaton said. “It’s not a top-down planning process.”

But a new campus organization looking to unionize faculty and staff at MU says that the plan was initiated with little or no faculty input.

The organization, the Missouri National Education Association, says the details of Compete Missouri were decided upon well before faculty were asked to contribute their ideas about how to cut costs to fund salary increases.

“I think that this bad plan — and imposition by the Board of Curators — has illustrated the faculty’s lack of power and lack of voice,” said MNEA member Robert Smale, a professor of history. “There is no real independent body representing faculty.”

The impetus for Compete Missouri was a motion passed by the University of Missouri System Board of Curators in April to reduce the general operating budgets of UM’s four campuses by 1 percent. MU’s share of the cuts under the 1 percent plan would be about $4.2 million for fiscal 2009, which begins next July.

In the wake of the curators’ action, Deaton and MU Provost Brian Foster created three committees to figure out how and where to make the cuts. On April 30, MU professor of rural sociology Rex Campbell, who chaired one of the committees, sent out an e-mail to all faculty members asking for cost-cutting ideas.

Among its many criticisms of the process, the MNEA says that faculty were given less than two weeks to respond to Campbell’s request. Indeed, among the responses Campbell received, which were obtained by the Missourian under the state’s open records law, were several comments about the lack of detailed financial information needed to guide faculty input.

One response stated that, “In the absence of data about the budget, the costs of instruction, faculty load, credit-hour generation, etc., etc., one could easily dismiss your request for budget trimming suggestions as a charade designed to make faculty believe they have some input into MU’s always secretive budget process.”

Campbell said no budget data were included along with his committee’s request’s because “we didn’t have it at that time.”

Campbell’s e-mail prompted the MNEA, which has 18 members among MU faculty and staff, to draft an open letter opposing the plan to university administrators. The letter accused curators of not fighting hard enough to secure state funding and questioned the logic of funding salary increases through budget cutting.

Compete Missouri aims to secure $7 million by next July to make faculty salaries competitive with MU’s institutional peers. About $4 million is expected to come from salaries currently allotted to unfilled faculty positions. Another $2 million is projected to come from the reorganization and consolidation of academic programs and centers. New revenue sources, such as new distance-learning courses and expanded summer school, would account for $1 million, according to the plan.

MNEA member Michael Ugarte, a Spanish professor, said many faculty were surprised and angered by the portion of the plan that requires all open faculty positions be reviewed at the “Provost/Chancellor level” before being filled. He said this will force MU to hire more lower-paid, nontenure-track instructors, which he thinks will lower the quality of education.

“What the hiring freeze is going to do,” Ugarte said, “is place a greater load on service departments, those that teach a lot of students — like English and math.”

Campbell agreed that, under Compete Missouri, more adjunct and nonranked faculty instructors would likely be hired. But, he said, they are “absolutely not of a lower quality.”

Other MNEA members are concerned about the proposed consolidation and closing of some campus centers, libraries and non-essential departments. Phebe Lauffer, an administrative associate in the theater department, said that part of the plan could amount to “pitting departments against one another for allocation of dollars and for survival.”

Lauffer, who has worked at the university since 1978, said that MU has considered consolidation in the past but that the efforts have failed because the decision on what to cut is left to department chairs.

“Quite frankly, generally chairs don’t have the finance or business experience to charge them with this important function,” Lauffer said. “It’s not a good business policy.”

Campbell doesn’t agree that consolidation would “turn departments against each other. I don’t know where that’s coming from,” he said.

Campbell continued: “You can’t support everything. Someone must decide on certain high-quality programs to give more resources to. We’ll be continuously evaluating programs to see which should be trimmed, which will be enhanced. That’s just good management. The provost’s office should be doing that anyway.”

However, Smale said that too much consolidation could ultimately make MU less attractive to potential new hires, and perhaps drive away the qualified teachers that are employed here.

“What if we are sacrificing libraries?” Smale said. “What if there’s no staff support? What if there are overcrowded classrooms?

“Professors look for more than just salary. If you have a nice salary, but everything else is falling apart around you because the university is being cannibalized, then you will still lose people.”

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