MU administrators plan two forums later this month to open a faculty discussion of how MU can balance the need to raise faculty salaries while keeping the school affordable for students.
Provost Brian Foster said that in the face of decreased state appropriations and a budget deficit that has plagued the university for nearly five years, the Oct. 22 and Oct. 23 forums are a way for administrators to communicate with employees about the school’s fiscal situation.
“It’s important that (faculty and staff) understand the whole context so they can see the magnitude of the issue,” he said. “The sky is not falling, but the point is we have to fix the fiscal situation so it doesn’t do serious damage.”
State funding accounted for about 25 percent of MU’s budget in 2002. This year, about 19 percent of MU’s budget comes from state appropriations. Meanwhile, tuition has become a greater part of MU’s budget.
Frank Schmidt, professor of biochemistry and chairman of the MU Faculty Council, said faculty are “frustrated and tired” of the changes, in the MU administration and the state legislature, that has resulted in “everything (going) from wonderful to awful and back again.”
He said the forums will allow faculty to become more involved in MU’s long-term planning process and decision making, in which, Schmidt said, typically they have not been invited to participate.
“Any change in direction or activity at the university has to have the faculty on board,” Schmidt said. “The old approach of having the direction of the university determined only by the administration and curators has not served us well.”
Schmidt said the faculty need to be involved in the discussion because, while students graduate and administrators come and go, the faculty remain. “We have to engage in this activity because, at least in terms of how long we’re here, we’re the university,” he said.
To combat the decline in state funding, Foster said MU has not raised salaries high enough to remain competitive among the Association of American Universities, an association of the 62 leading research institutions in the United States and Canada.
Over the next three years, MU plans to raise pay to the median salary of public AAU institutions — a proposal that would require funding from the state legislature and a matching contribution from MU.
MU has raised tuition to accommodate budget strains. That option, however, is limited by a new law that links tuition increases with the state’s Consumer Price Index.
MU made cuts and reallocations in recent years. Foster said the university cut $8 million in administrative expenses last year, which included eliminating several staff positions. MU maintained the trend this year by merging two facilities offices that had similar tasks, among other consolidations.
Additional reallocations are planned, Foster said, which include keeping vacant employee positions unfilled while trying to raise salaries.
As of Thursday afternoon, two days after a mass e-mail informed faculty of the forums, about 80 faculty members had registered to attend. That leaves about 10 seats open at each session, said Kirsten Olson, executive staff assistant in the provost’s office.