COLUMBIA — The College of Engineering will face about $900,000 worth of budget cuts — 5 percent of the college's total budget — for fiscal year 2017, Dean Elizabeth Loboa announced at a faculty open forum in Lafferre Hall on Thursday afternoon.
The cuts come a day after MU Interim Chancellor Hank Foley announced hiring freezes and 5 percent cuts to MU’s total 2017 fiscal year budget.
The engineering dean’s office announced the open forum Monday and said there would be both human resources and benefits representatives present. The announcement and Foley's “bummer memo” made staff and faculty members fear massive layoffs, Loboa said.
Loboa said one faculty member joked: “Are you going to have security at the meeting?” But she reassured the group at the meeting that there’s “nothing like that going on.”
Instead, Loboa listed 11 cost-saving measures and goals amounting to roughly $500,000 to $700,000 in cuts. The college still has to come up with between $400,000 or $200,000 more to meet the $900,000 mark.
Six non-tenure-track faculty members were told prior to the meeting that their contracts would not be renewed, Loboa said. Even after those, “we may still have to do layoffs,” Loboa said.
Loboa said she hopes to have concrete numbers for layoffs in the next month.
She added that if anyone else was already thinking of transitioning out of the college, they could speak with the human resources representatives and a benefits representative. The HR representatives discussed a transition assistance program for staff members providing a week of pay for every year they’ve been at the university from five to 26 weeks.
Loboa also said the college is still hiring the 15 non-tenure track faculty members promised in her offer letter when she was hired as dean in August. The six faculty members who received notice of non-renewal Thursday are eligible to apply for those 15 positions. She said the new hires will reduce the growing teaching workload on research-focused faculty.
Currently, the college has about a 40:1 student to faculty ratio, while most schools in the Association of American Universities, of which MU is a member, have a 20:1 ratio, Loboa said.
Jill Ford, the college’s executive director of student programs, said she anticipates the incoming freshman class will bring 550 students to the college. Currently, enrolled classes have between 650 and 770 students.
Loboa also told the crowd that she had been creating a data-driven strategic plan for the college long before receiving Foley’s announcement about budget cuts and hiring freezes across campus.
Because of the planning, “we’re better off than most colleges,” Loboa said.
The UM System is already in the process of an internal audit of the College of Engineering, and the college will complete an efficiency and efficacy analysis at the end of April.
Loboa said she’ll have numbers and recommendations from those reports and more information about cuts and layoffs before May 1.
Faculty raised plenty of other questions, though.
Fifteen minutes into the meeting, Galen Suppes, an engineering professor and president of the MU chapter of American Association of Universities Professors, brought a formal “Request for Transparency and Respect” related to a proposed workload policy discussed by Loboa and department chairs in early February. The policy would allow professors with higher research expenditures to teach fewer courses.
Suppes told Loboa that if enacted, the college would have 30 percent more faculty than needed to teach its students. Once the 15 non-tenure-track professors are hired, that number would rise to 50 percent, Suppes said.
“Something is not transparent when the above workloads are put forward, an inspection of funding is performed, and an existing request is in place for more NTT (non-tenure-track) positions,” Suppes’ request reads.
After the meeting, Loboa said she hadn’t seen Suppes’ request but said she and department heads have data to support the proposal.
Another faculty member asked during the meeting if the non-tenure-track jobs had been listed publicly, and Loboa said they’d been posted wherever was most beneficial to finding the best candidates.
Loboa acknowledged that the cuts came at a politically difficult time when the university is fighting for money with the state legislature.
“We got here because of the protests and the backlash and Melissa Click,” she said. “This university is a 177-year-old institution. We’re a great university, and we’re going to survive that.”
Endowed professor Curt Davis said after the meeting that a lot is still uncertain.
“I don’t know enough yet to understand,” he said. “There’s still a lot in the air about where the cuts are coming from.”
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