Forsee addresses budget issues at town hall meeting

The UM system president also spoke on his letter opposing cap and trade legislation.
UM system President Gary Forsee speaks Wednesday during a town hall meeting in the Bond Life Sciences Center. Forsee spoke about MU's budget issues and took questions from the audience.

UM system President Gary Forsee fielded questions on the university’s budget, his controversial letter regarding cap and trade and the system’s new retirement plan during a town hall meeting Wednesday.

The meeting took place in the Bond Life Sciences Center and is the last in a series of town hall meetings Forsee has held at the four UM system campuses in the last two months.

Budget issues

Forsee said the university’s troubled financial situation and the lack of financial aid availability for students has led the university to begin looking into possibilities for radical changes, including a three-year “no-frills” degree.

“Would this mean that our learning processes change or our academic environment changes?" Forsee said. "I hope not. The effort to reconcile this desire to finish college faster shouldn’t change the student experience.”

Although Missouri universities and colleges reached an agreement with Gov. Jay Nixon in November to keep in-state, undergraduate tuition flat in exchange for a 5 percent cut in state funding, Forsee said the UM system is putting in cost reduction measures to save $64 million in the next year.

“At the end of the day, despite state funding only dropping five percent, we have to take on significant cuts because we have fixed costs that increase,” Forsee said. “We have to continue to be vigilant toward our expenses as we wait for economic recovery.”

Forsee also addressed the possibility of the UM system Board of Curators raising tuition for out-of-state or graduate students.

“The agreement was to hold tuition flat for undergraduate, in-state students,” Forsee said. “You may ask, ‘What about out-of-state students, what about graduate students?’ That’s something I’ll be talking about in meetings next week and with the curators in January.”

MU ranks 33 out of 34 in faculty salaries in the Association of American Universities -- an issue Forsee said must be addressed in the near future.

“We’re 47th in the country in state appropriations,” Forsee said. “We also know we’re dead last or near last in faculty salaries in the AAU. So, these are the issues we have to deal with, especially because our most valuable asset in making our system more competitive is faculty.”

Closing the discussion on budget issues, Forsee said he hopes the university’s financial woes take a backseat in the next year.

“My hope is that we’d get to spend a little less time talking about our budget,” Forsee said. “That would certainly be a New Year’s resolution.”

Forsee’s cap and trade letter

Forsee put aside 15 minutes of his presentation to address his recent letter opposing cap and trade legislation and respond to the backlash he’s received for it.

The bill Forsee spoke out against in his letter to Missouri’s congressional delegation aims to curb green house gas emissions through setting guidelines and has passed the U.S. House of Representatives.

Forsee said he wanted to clarify he supports reducing green house gas emissions but is concerned about the costs the new guidelines could result in for the university.

“We have a very serious funding issue in our state and, as those considerations regarding cap and trade are made, give us some help,” Forsee said. “The message when we sent that letter was, ‘We need money.’ This wasn’t without a lot of consideration, but no, it probably wasn’t 100 percent uniformity across our four campuses.”

In response to claims of Forsee flip-flopping on the issue of climate change, he said he didn’t believe his letter conflicted with his stance on green house gas emissions.

“This is our future and we’re ensuring that we have an environment that is sustainable,” Forsee said. “In the context though, we have no mechanisms left now to pay for these things. So, I thought the letter was pretty clear, but others have read it in a different regard.”

Pension and retirement plan issues

Forsee took multiple questions regarding the UM system’s new retirement plan, which was approved at a curators meeting in February. The plan diverts 1 percent of an employee’s annual salary to contribute to their retirement fund.

“The decision on one percent of a salary going toward the pension was a reaction to the economic state,” Forsee said. “I can’t sit here today and say it’s not going to happen, but there is no plan for that to happen again. That money stays in the pension system and doesn’t go anywhere else.”

UM system domestic partner benefits

Professor Candace Galen brought up the issue of domestic partner benefits for UM system employees, asking Forsee why she didn’t receive the same benefits as her peers.

“Down the hall from my office, I have a colleague and we’re pretty similar in most regards-- we’re both full time professors, we’ve both brought in over $1 million to the university to support our research,” Galen said. “We both have two children we’re supporting and we both have life partners with which we share those parenting responsibilities. The difference is, my colleague receives almost $5,000 in benefits to support his family because another thing we have in common is that we’re both partnered with women.”

Forsee promised a decision on the issue in the next year.

“I know I have at least one campus resolution on the way to my office,” Forsee said. “My commitment to you this year is that as those resolutions come to my office we will engage with the campuses on this topic and will report back to you on our conclusion and our recommendation to the Board of Curators.”

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