Faculty speaks out against Board of Curators' decisions

The group says more faculty input could have helped shape budget cuts.
Katie Currid / Graphic Designer

A group of MU faculty sent a letter to UM system President Gary Forsee on Feb. 4 to express anger at changes made to the MU's retirement plan and the president's power to furlough university workers in preparation for cutbacks in state funding.

As the state faces a projected budget deficit of more than $340 million, House and Senate budget committees in the General Assembly asked the Missouri Department of Higher Education to find ways to cut its budget by 15 to 25 percent. The department in turn asked public colleges to prepare for similar cuts in their state appropriations.

In the letter, the MU chapter of the American Association of University Professors told Forsee it had received numerous complaints from faculty and staff concerning the possibility of changes to the retirement plan and the possibility of furloughs, which are mandatory, unpaid leaves of absence.

On Feb. 6, the UM system Board of Curators approved changes to the retirement plan that would require UM system employees to divert 1-2 percent of their salary to individual retirement funds, depending on their salary. It also voted to give Forsee the power to put workers on involuntary, unpaid leave.

The letter said the process through which this decision is being implemented does not involve shared governance with faculty. It said a meeting of the entire faculty did not allow enough discussion for the scale of the changes the board approved. Instead the AAUP supported town hall-style meetings such as those scheduled after the board's vote.

"Inviting the faculty-at-large to contribute ideas about how the university should save money is not the same as consulting faculty prior to making a decision to implement a proposal of such immense impact on faculty and staff and that radically changes MU policy," the letter stated.

Chemistry professor Rainer Glaser, who sits on the MU AAUP executive committee, said Forsee had heard suggestions from faculty about how to cut its budget and had been told of the widespread opposition to retirement contributions and furloughs. He said the AAUP wanted to express how the faculty felt the Board of Curators decision ignored that input.

"The AAUP felt that these changes are such that one would wish there was a better exchange of information," Glaser said. "It doesn't seem like an adequate process."

Neither MU AAUP President Eddie Adelstein nor Vice President Victoria Johnson, who Glaser said wrote the letter, returned phone calls seeking comment about the letter.

After the curators meeting on Feb. 6, Forsee fielded questions at a press conference about the faculty's anger at the changes. He said the system had been working on ways to reduce its budget since August and said each campus' chancellor's office had many outlets where faculty could have made their ideas known.

"We've done the very best job we could at that campus level," Forsee said in the press conference. "We have plenty of opportunity to vet issues on their mind and proposals on our mind and my view is that those processes took place and concerns were adequately dealt with."

Forsee said faculty senate groups that report to the board of curators did a good job of representing workers' interest since it was impractical for the chancellor to take each person's concerns into account.

"We are in a challenging time and they require a variety of actions, some of which are very difficult and complicated," Forsee said at the conference. "In a perfect world, all 26,950 of our associates would have had a personal conversation with me, and that's not going to take place. That's not practical, and we trust the governance processes to work."

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