Editorial: Fancy buildings never taught us anything

Seniors have been sent off, final exams are next week and the academic year is coming to a close. We’d like to send our best wishes to the class of 2008 and congratulate them on their commencement from MU.

At the same time, we feel compelled to express a reluctant farewell to a group of people we’re very disappointed to see leaving the university for greater things: our professors.

For years, MU has ranked as one of the lowest members of the Association of American Universities in terms of faculty salaries - in 2007, we were ranked 33 out of 34. As a result, we’ve lost many of our most qualified faculty and staff members to universities that will offer them signing bonuses, salary increases and promises that they will be valued and appreciated, fiscally and academically.

This is a problem for remaining faculty members, for administrators and for students. The quality of our education isn’t defined by newly constructed buildings, expensive equipment or excessive technology.

What we need and what we want are professors who know what they’re talking about, who are passionate about what they’re teaching and who are invested in the growth and education of their students.

If we want the student research opportunities, inspiring faculty mentors and exciting, innovative methods of learning that we pay thousands of dollars in tuition for each year to continue, we need to address the dissatisfactions of our faculty and staff members. Keeping quality professors at MU should be our No. 1 priority.

They determine our experiences during our time here and also affect the career opportunities we have after we graduate.

Only this year, after many faculty members have moved on and MU has dropped from a “National Universities: Top Schools” ranking of 71 to 91 according to the U.S. News and World Report, has the administration actively attempted to remedy this problem. Their solution? Compete Missouri, a proposal that attempts to make faculty salaries more competitive by hiring fewer new professors and giving salary priority to interdisciplinary positions, endowed chairs and faculty members who teach cross-listed courses.

More than 300 faculty and staff members gathered at a general faculty meeting on Thursday to voice their concerns about the plan. At the forum, faculty members began by expressing opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of the plan, but many voiced complaints about treatment by administrators that had little and sometimes nothing to do with Compete Missouri.

Some professors addressed the decreasing number of tenured faculty at MU, explaining that it reduces the ability of faculty members for “dissent, freedom of speech and creative endeavors.”

Professors might be afraid to speak out to administrators when they disagree with university policies for fear that they’ll end up with less control over the subjects they teach or, in some cases, without their jobs the following year.

Others expressed concern about a disconnect between professors and administrators, stating they felt the administration could not relate to their problems and that a system of patronage and political behavior prohibited faculty members from receiving retributions through the grievance process or feeling safe and comfortable in their positions.

We talk a lot about the earplugs administrators employ to ignore the student voice, but it seems as if those same headphones are blocking out the requests and needs of the faculty. If we want to ensure a quality education for students and a university environment that fosters learning, research and a reputation as a top research institution, we need to do all that we can to keep those faculty members on board.

It shouldn’t take a massive drop in national rankings or a petition signed by hundreds of faculty members for the administration to notice that their staff members are unhappy. Administrators should actively seek out faculty concerns and address them fairly, efficiently and with transparency.

Faculty members shouldn’t be afraid to speak out for fear of losing their job. They also shouldn’t feel reluctant to begin research in a place where they might not be employed the following year. Students shouldn’t have to endure significantly greater class sizes or sub-par courses because our most educated, successful professors have left MU for greener pastures and greener wallets.

Students also have a responsibility to ensure that our best faculty members stay on board. Whether it’s sending letters to legislators asking for their support in raising salaries, addressing administrators directly and showing our concern for the faculty or simply asking our favorite professors what we can do to make sure their voices are heard by administrators, we can’t let the faculty manage the fight alone.

We must work to provide both competitive salaries and satisfying working conditions for faculty members. Let’s ensure that we spend our money on more important assets than extravagant facilities and decorative construction - or “All We Call Mizzou” will be a bunch of empty buildings with no students or staff willing to stay.

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