Curators discuss presidential search committee and construction projects

Room and board rates will rise 4.1 percent for the 2016-17 school year.

During its meeting on Thursday at MU, the UM System Board of Curators discussed and approved a variety of topics such as construction projects and next school year’s room and board rates. Concerned Student 1950 interrupted a financial committee presentation at the beginning of the meeting, but the curators still ended its public session on time. Because of the recent resignation of two of the curators, Yvonne Sparks and David Steward, there were only six curators present at the meeting.

Presidential Search

The curators approved the composition of the presidential search committee that will be formed in the following month and discussed the tentative timeline for hiring the next UM System president.

The search committee will include the Board of Curators, the student representative to the board and other members nominated by the Intercampus Faculty Council, Intercampus Staff Advisory Council and Intercampus Student Council.

The councils and association will nominate one representative per campus and the board will select members. One member from the student council will be selected, since the other student will be the board’s student representative, and two members from each of the other councils will be selected.

In the past, the search committee has not had voting power. This time, the board plans to let the representatives vote, allowing them to have “equal input,” curator John Phillips said.

“They really didn’t sit at the table or participate in the search,” Phillips said, referencing the last presidential search. “(This time,) they will be at the table and essentially have input and vote to narrow the search.”

By the end of February, the board hopes to choose the search firm and select the search committee. There will be public forums held in April to receive input regarding qualifications constituents, students and faculty would like to see in the next president. Candidates will then be interviewed throughout the summer and the president will be selected by the end of the year.

Room and board rates

The board approved to increase the room and board rates for the 2016-17 school year. This is a $380 increase for MU, the highest increase out of the four campuses.

The approved increase also includes a proposed laundry fee that the Department of Residential Life has been exploring. The estimated $100 fee would replace students having to use quarters or charge their accounts to do laundry.

The predominant room and board plan for 2016-17 will cost $9,750 per academic year. That is for a traditional double room and a meal plan that provides 225 meals per semester, plus laundry service. Students could also opt to choose a more or less expensive housing and dining plan.

Construction Projects

Stewart Hall will be renovated to include more student stations and create a STEM educational space for students. The project will cost $12 million. Funding will come from leftover money from the Lafferre Hall renovation, campus reserves and refinancing debt.

“This is undergraduate teaching labs for the campus,” Burnett said. “They’re going to rework all of these labs for them to be modern teaching labs for undergraduate students.”

Additionally, McKee Hall will be demolished to build an undergraduate STEM learning center. The $20.5 million project will create class labs, collaborative spaces and work spaces.

“There is an insufficient number of teaching laboratories available to support the current enrollment of STEM students on the MU campus,” the proposal reads. “The result is not all STEM students are able to take their experiential course requirements when needed; and students either are required to extend their time to complete their degree, take courses out of sequence, or they switch to a non-STEM discipline to complete their degrees on time.”

The demolition of McKee presents a “unique opportunity” to build the three-story STEM learning center, according to the proposal.

A $20 million new “applied learning center” will be built for the Trulaske College of Business. The building will have a creativity lab, trading floor and 200-seat auditorium, among other spaces.

“Cornell Hall serves the needs for traditional classroom learning environments, but when it was completed in 2002 it was not designed to accommodate applied learning curricula that is becoming the standard in today's business education,” the proposal reads. “... The innovative learning spaces in the new building will offer experiential learning opportunities to develop the skills necessary for our students to compete and excel in the business world.”

All three projects were approved unanimously by the board.

Credit rating

Recently, the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded the UM System’s credit outlook from stable to negative. The university system currently holds a AA+ rating.

Chief Financial Officer Brian Burnett and Chief Investment Officer Tom Richards presented the causes and consequences of the new credit outlook.

Burnett said that the media has reported that the negative credit outlook was due to race-based protests on campus in the fall and former UM System President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin’s resignations. Burnett and Richards acknowledged that the fall’s events probably played a contributing role in the outlook, but that the university system’s debt played a bigger role.

“We’re certain that (the unrest and resignations) had some effect,” Burnett said. “But when they moved on to more an objective rating, we think that had more weight in this negative outlook.”

The university system has $1.57 billion in debt due to funding building and infrastructure projects across the system. Since 2009, the UM System has invested $922 million in projects, with 36 percent of that going toward MU.

“We remain in the AA+ category,” Richards said. “We are in a very elite group of public universities in terms of credit ratings. Our credit rating is higher than most of the banks we deal with. Even if we were to move at some point into an AA category, it is still in the very top tier of credit ratings.”

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