The Maneater

Highlights from Mun Choi’s first press conference as UM System president

Choi addressed questions about budget cuts, the recent state audit report, tuition and more.

UM System President Mun Y. Choi speaks at his welcome reception on Dec. 1, 2016.

UM System President Mun Choi spoke at his first press conference Friday afternoon since beginning the position on March 1.

Most of the questions directed at him were about recent challenges to the UM System. Budget cuts, a recent state audit report, the MU chancellor search, enrollment and anti-Semitic messages were among the topics Choi addressed.

Budget cuts

In January, Gov. Eric Greitens cut $20 million from the MU budget for fiscal year 2017 and, in February, proposed approximately $40 million in cuts from the UM System budget for fiscal year 2018.

Choi said he has met with Greitens multiple times in recent weeks.

“He emphasized to many of us how important it is to focus on excellence,” Choi said.

On Wednesday, interim Chancellor Hank Foley released a statement to faculty, students and staff that set forth “guiding principles” for addressing the budget cuts to this year’s fiscal budget, which ends June 30.

In order for the UM System to make up the deficits in funding, Choi said that he has met with the four system chancellors to discuss “initial ideas of their plans.” He said programs that haven’t been meeting the “mission or high goals that we have” will be cut.

“It’s time for us to make those tough decisions,” Choi said. “It’s not just going to be top-down; it’s going to be a collaborative process. We cannot go through this process of having significant budget cuts and decreasing enrollment without having to make the tough decisions.”

Choi said it is important to place the UM System’s recent budget cuts into context. Other public universities in Missouri and across the nation are also facing budget cuts, Choi said.

“We need to grow resources, but at the same time, we’ll be so very mindful of affordability,” he said.

State audit

On Monday, Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway released an audit report of top administrators and executives of the UM System. The report revealed that administrators had been given incentive payments that appear to violate the state constitution. The UM System was given a “fair” rating in the report, which is the second-lowest of four ratings.

“As you know, we released a press statement today saying that the performance incentive program will be terminated immediately,” Choi said.

According to the report, more than $1.2 million was spent on incentive payments over a period of two years. The payments did not show up on public records of executive’s salaries.

MU chancellor search

Choi said the MU chancellor search committee will provide him with four candidates before he makes an ultimate decision on who serves in the role that Foley has been in for over a year.

Tuition

The Higher Education Student Funding Act, passed by the Missouri legislature in 2007, limits the increase in tuition rates for public universities in Missouri. The in-state undergraduate tuition rate cannot be increased more than the rate of inflation under the Consumer Price Index.

A 21.1 percent drop in MU enrollment from fall 2015 to fall 2016 left MU with a $36.3 million decrease in tuition revenue.

“Our tuition has been kept at an artificially low value,” Choi said.

Because of the Higher Education Student Funding Act, MU currently can’t raise the tuition level beyond the CPI unless they receive a waiver.

The cost of tuition encompasses multiple factors that the UM System will look at comprehensively, Choi said. The cost of tuition also includes the time to graduate and the discount rate that comes with scholarships.

As of right now, Choi said he doesn’t know what the percentage increase for tuition will be, but said “our goal going forward is to ensure affordability, access and excellence.”

Choi referenced Indiana University and Purdue University as models for tuition increases.

Enrollment

A drop in enrollment was another issue of concern brought up by reporters during the press conference.

“The enrollment pressures have caused some of us to think deeply about restructuring to have a a strong and sustainable institution,” Choi said.

Effective marketing and providing the right level of support are among the strategies the UM System will take to ensure enrollment is “healthy,” Choi said.

Choi said advice and criticism that has been given to the UM System recently by people such as Gov. Greitens is not uncommon for a public university.

He said multiple times that as a public university, MU and the UM System have to serve the state of Missouri and its residents by living up to the standards and mission of the four-campus system.

Anti-Semitic statements

A reporter asked a question about race and the recent anti-Semitic harassment on MU’s campus.

“I am so proud of the Mizzou campus and [interim] Chancellor Foley in being so direct in stating our position that our university and the state of Missouri is not a place where we condone that behavior,” Choi said. “We need to speak up immediately to condone behaviors that are not aligned to the goals and missions that we have not only at this university but in this state and country.”

Other comments

Choi repeatedly emphasized the transparency that the UM System must conduct in its operations, referencing conversations with faculty.

He concluded the press conference by addressing a question about possible layoffs to faculty and staff in response to the budget cuts.

“Eighty percent of our overall budget is in salaries and wages,” Choi said. Administrators will deal with the “serious challenges” in as “humanely and compassionately” a way as possible.

Edited by Katherine Stevenson | kstevenson@themaneater.com

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