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Oct. 14, 2010 Volume 32, No. 8

Provost warns campus that ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option


Foster details discussions on budget challenges ahead

The University of Missouri must make “serious modifications” in the way it operates to offset future reductions in state appropriations, Provost Brian Foster told MU employees in an e-mail late last week.

In the e-mail, Foster shared details of recent discussions with campus deans about MU’s fiscal challenges. Those discussions have resulted in several “interventions” that will go into effect immediately, including a “near total freeze” on new hiring requests and a halt to new programs that do not generate new revenue or meet “compelling mandates.”

Foster said “there are few easy targets for funding cuts.” However, the campus cannot continue “business as usual” if it wants to meet its obligations to students and maintain its stature. Nor can campus leaders wait for the UM System or the state to act before reaching “some very important decisions.”

Foster stressed that MU is looking beyond 2012. He said there is “no sight line” to increases in state appropriations and that, because of a state law that strictly limits tuition increases at Missouri’s public universities, MU has no straightforward way to increase revenue on its own. He said, the university must “establish well thought out priorities for everything we do: hiring, curriculum, research facilities, workload, degree programs, and so on.

“Moreover,” he continued, “all of these matters must be considered together, since they all interact in profoundly complicated ways.”

In comments at last week’s General Faculty meeting, Tim Rooney, MU’s budget officer, predicted that the state could cut between 5 percent and 15 percent of the campus budget. That would mean a loss of between $10 million and $31 million for MU. State law limits tuition increases to increases in the Consumer Price Index, which rose just 1 percent in the first 8 months of 2010. 

That would not allow for a large enough increase to offset the loss in state revenue, he said. The university plans to request a waiver from the Coordinating Board for Higher Education to raise tuition beyond the CPI, as required by the law. But there are limits to what MU can charge without compromising enrollment.

Federal stimulus funding accounted for 4.4 percent, or about $9 million, of MU’s $206 million budget in 2011. In addition to the expected cuts in state funding, campus departments face a significant increase in benefit costs, which will hurt already lean budgets. Enrollment “has saved our budget in recent years,” Rooney said. He projected a net gain in new students on campus next fall, but enrollments will likely be less robust in the coming years.

Foster acknowledged faculty and staff concerns over the budget situation, as well as fears that surround a review of 75 “low-producing” degree programs that is due to the state by Oct. 21. He said there are “currently” no plans to cut jobs based on the review, which is aimed at programs that fail to produce a three-year average of 10 undergraduate degrees, five master’s degrees and three doctoral degrees per year.

At last week’s Faculty Council meeting, reaction to the review was mixed. Chair Leona Rubin said the list of low-producing programs has been available for some time and that other criteria would be considered before a program was eliminated.

But Nicole Monnier, an associate teaching professor in Russian and German Studies, said that the short timeline for providing written justification for a program’s future existence is “offensive.” 

 “Things have stopped in my department for three days because we’ve had to gather data,” she said. 

Other council members said MU should look for other areas to cut expenses. 

“There are lots of places where there are inefficiencies on this campus, but this list is just 180 degrees in the wrong direction of looking for them,” said mathematics Professor Stephen Montgomery-Smith.

Foster has asked administrators to consider several measures to cut costs, including combining degree programs, developing new strategies to increase enrollments and collaborating with other MU departments, system campuses and state universities.

The provost added that ongoing projects are already helping to shape MU’s future, such as the shared services initiative, which targets redundancy in administrative functions; Mizzou Advantage, which promotes interdisciplinary research; and the use of classroom technology to increase distance learning.

But, he said, those efforts should be considered only the beginning. 

“This is an exceptional time,” he said, “and doing more with less is trending as the norm, not the exception, and we need to structure these efforts in a systematic and holistic way.”