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Faculty to address budget shortage

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May 6, 2008

As MU faces a significant budget shortage, members of the university’s faculty plan to address the problem head on.

Faculty members will come together at a general faculty meeting Thursday to discuss Compete Missouri, an internal $7 million proposal to restructure salaries and the “ongoing fiscal crisis” at MU, Faculty Council chairman Frank Schmidt said.

Sixty-seven faculty members signed the petition to call a special faculty meeting. University policy requires that a general faculty meeting be held when 20 faculty members sign a petition.

Schmidt said the meeting was called in response to faculty frustration with MU’s budget.

“It is the frustration for faculty positions being cut, for resources being denied, resources for teaching, research and service,” Schmidt said. “This is causing great difficulties to the university.”

The UM system faced dramatic budget cuts in fiscal year 2002, which spanned from July 1, 2002 to June 30, 2003. Since then, state appropriations have been lower than fiscal year 2001, when the system was given $442 million.

As MU’s financial woes deepened, faculty salaries became less of a priority, Schmidt said.

At the beginning of the decade, MU ranked in the middle, but now the average faculty salary is second to last of public research universities across the country, he added.

Compete Missouri is meant to make faculty salaries more competitive, but some faculty members believe the proposal will actually hurt MU, Schmidt said.

Funding for the $7 million proposal is expected to come from unfilled faculty positions, the restructuring of academic programs and other new sources.

In other words, Compete Missouri is “a fancy name for a hiring freeze,” Schmidt said.

“This year, there were about 90 faculty positions that came open for ranked faculty,” he said. “That’s out of a total of about 1,300. The Compete Missouri plan is going to allow somewhere around 30 of those to be refilled.”

Fewer new professors will be hired so current faculty will earn higher salaries, Schmidt added.

Compete Missouri does name specific priorities.

“All salary funds for these positions will be accumulated centrally and allocated according to strategic priorities and with careful consideration” of program reviews, according to “Compete Missouri: MU’s New Financial Plan,” a document issued by the Provost Brian Foster’s office in July 2007.

Allocation would give priority to endowed chairs, key interdisciplinary positions in high-priority programs and faculty who teach cross-listed courses.

Faculty members said the proposal would hurt the quality of education at MU.

With fewer faculty members, several hundred classes might not be offered, Schmidt said. Large lecture classes would expand to include even more students.

Temporary adjunct professors could replace tenure-track, research-minded faculty, said mathematics professor Stephen Montgomery-Smith, a vice president of the American Association of University Professors at MU.

Without an emphasis on research, MU could lose some of its appeal, Montgomery-Smith added.

“The research element actually plays a big role in the teaching element,” he said. “Otherwise we might as well close this place down.”

Montgomery-Smith said he hopes the faculty meeting will expose both sides of Compete Missouri, but he said the response could be gradual.

“My personal experience in trying to change things is that you take it one step at a time,” he said. “I don’t expect suddenly everyone to change their mind.”

Both Montgomery-Smith and Schmidt said the negative effects of Compete Missouri would make MU a less viable university.

“Basically it’s going to be a degradation of the quality of education that MU can offer,” Montgomery-Smith said.

And the drawbacks could eventually outweigh MU’s appeal.

“The question is, at what point does that become so much of a negative for the students that we’re unable to meet our role?” Schmidt said.

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