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Oct. 23, 2014 Volume 36, No. 9

Staff open forum addresses MU’s challenges

Staff Advisory Council’s role expands under Loftin’s leadership

Health benefits, the Division of Information Technology restructuring and raises were hot topics at the staff open forum with Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin Oct. 15 at the Missouri Theatre. The Staff Advisory Council hosted the panel that included Loftin; Betsy Rodriguez, vice president of human resources; Karen Touzeau, associate vice chancellor for human resources; and Todd MacKley, associate director of finance and accounting.


From left are Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin,  Betsy Rodriguez, Karen Touzeau and Todd Mackley.

Several hundred of MU’s more than 8,000 administrative, service and support employees attended, and more watched the live stream. Staff had the opportunity to email questions to the advisory council ahead of time and ask questions at the event. All questions and answers will be posted on the council’s website and Facebook page in coming days.


Annual Enrollment

Rodriguez gave a 20-minute presentation on the three plan options: the Healthy Savings Plan (formerly myOptions), the Custom Network Plan (new for 2015) and the PPO Plan (formerly myChoice). The new plan, she said, is in response to the recommendations of the Total Rewards Ad Hoc Task Force, formed in June 2013 to reimagine benefits in the face of dramatic fiscal challenges.

“One of the things they thought was important was flexibility,” Rodriguez said. “We’re trying to put some more flexibility and add a little more choice into benefit programs.” 

Also new this year is that benefit-eligible employees must choose a plan or opt out during the Oct. 20-31 enrollment period. If no action is taken, employees will default to the Healthy Savings Plan and pay taxes on the premiums.

“This is a huge investment,” Rodriguez said of choosing a benefit plan. Employees spend anywhere from $1,800 to $5,000 annually on medical premiums. “There’s almost nothing in your personal life that you’d spend that much money on that you wouldn’t have a big discussion about and you wouldn’t research,” Rodriguez said. “That’s all we’re asking you to do.”

Another recommendation from the task force was to encourage healthful behavior. In 2015, the Healthy for Life wellness program will offer a two-tiered financial incentive. Employees can earn $150 in Tier 1 “Educate Yourself” and $300 in Tier 2 “Invest in Yourself.”

Rodriguez also answered a question on the Voluntary Separation Program for tenured faculty who are retirement eligible and at least 62 years old as of Aug. 31, 2015. She clarified that the program is not an early retirement program but an opportunity for tenured faculty to get a one-time payout for retiring, relinquishing tenure and separating from the university. There will be no similar offering for staff, Rodriguez said.

For more information on staff benefits, contact a campus benefits representative, the HR Service Center at (573) 882-2146 or


Division of Information Technology

On Oct. 9, Faculty Council discussed the restructuring of the Division of Information Technology, and the topic came up at the staff forum as well.

Gary Allen, University of Missouri System vice president for information technology and MU chief information officer, is looking into how to streamline MU’s IT department, which has about 300 employees.

There was concern that some IT staff who work in specific units would be reallocated or laid off. Loftin strongly emphasized that staff will not be displaced.

“Everyone who is currently employed by IT is meant to stay exactly where they are right now doing exactly what they’re doing right now,” he said.

The university currently has a hybrid model where some IT employees work for the university centrally while others work for individual schools, colleges and departments. Loftin said that this structure poses challenges for the campus, including providing consistent service and meeting compliance requirements for information security.

“I’ve asked Gary Allen to work with units to effect over time a transition of their unique employees in IT to working for the central system,” Loftin said. “They will stay where they are today doing the same jobs they are doing today, but we’ll have a different kind of accountability to make sure we can provide the support required and also have the ability to provide [information] security across the entire university system.”

In an email to employees Oct. 16, Allen further clarified the MU information technology coordination effort.



A few staff members shared their frustration with the lack of substantial raises. Staff also asked about increasing the tuition discount for employees’ children who attend Mizzou and having a tiered benefit system so that the lowest paid employees were eligible for more benefits.

Loftin was receptive. “I hear you, and I am very sympathetic,” he said.

Earlier this year, because the university couldn’t provide centralized funding to units for raises, Loftin asked managers to provide a 2 percent pool for merit-based raises for their staff. However, not every unit’s budget was large enough to accommodate that, he said.

Beginning fiscal 2015, base general funds for schools, colleges and operating units were reduced by 2 percent. The reallocation will continue for the next four years as part of the MU Strategic Operating Plan. Loftin will work with an advisory group to determine how best to reallocate the money. For fiscal 2015, that amounted to $8.7 million. He hopes to have answers in spring of 2015 and firm decisions for fiscal 2016.

“One of the questions I will be asking them to work on is should we reallocate part of that funding we’ve been able to acquire from the entire university toward things like staff increases that are merit-based,” he said. “I’m mindful of your concerns. I hear them. I feel them directly.”

Gov. Jay Nixon’s recent release of new state money included $8 million for hiring high-impact faculty and $1.7 million in recognition that MU did not increase undergraduate resident tuition.


Staff Advisory Council

Touzeau, MU's associate vice chancellor for human resources, talked about the possibility of developing a shared-leave program in which employees could donate sick time to another employee unable to work due to a health crisis. This was well received by the audience.

Touzeau commended the Staff Advisory Council for bringing the idea to the table. “They’ve really been the driving force in terms of coming up with a plan that will allow you to donate your sick leave to respond to an employee’s crisis,” she said.

Staff Advisory Council Chair Becky Stafford said a reason why the council partnered with Loftin for this event was to help staff better understand the role of the council.

“Although we greatly enjoy hosting Staff Recognition Week each spring, we aren’t just party planners,” Stafford said. “Since Chancellor Loftin arrived in February, our involvement has expanded a great deal. We are very much involved with administrative committees. He really wants staff engaged and is truly understanding of our position here at Mizzou.”

Loftin and the council hope to host an open forum each fall and spring. For more information, visit the Staff Advisory Council website.

 — Kelsey Allen