MU units work to tighten belt around budget

Director of Student Life Mark Lucas: “Our job is to provide experiences for all the different components of our campus, and we will still be able to do that, we just may not be able to do that as much to benefit the people who are paying for it."
The Columns, with Jesse Hall in the background, glow at dusk on Feb. 15. MU is working through tightening budgets to help accommodate projected losses in the coming year.

MU colleges, schools and departments have been working to trim their budgets following interim Chancellor Hank Foley’s announcement of a 5 percent budget cut, including laying off staff, not filling open positions and not providing merit raises.

The anticipated $32 million budget shortfall comes from a projected 1,500 fewer students for fall 2016. Even with the 5 percent cut, MU will still be $10 million short of reaching $32 million. Reserve money will be used to make up the difference, Foley wrote in the email announcing the shortfall. In addition to the cut, Foley has imposed a hiring freeze. It is up to the discretion of campus administrators to hire faculty or staff, but the need must be “exceptional,” he wrote in the email.

What’s being affected

For the College of Arts and Science, that means cutting $4.2 million. Dean Michael O’Brien said he is hoping most of that money can come from not filling open positions.

“Level of instruction will not be affected,” O’Brien said about the decision to hire fewer faculty. “We may have to offer some larger classes … (but) I think we've done a really good job of holding that kind of thing absolutely the same.”

Jim Spain, vice provost for Undergraduate Studies, said laying off staff will be a last resort for his department because of the negative effect it will have on delivering services to students, such as the Learning Center and Academic Retention Services. He said he’s unsure of what will be cut first, but that there will not be a standard cut for every program.

“We're working so that we minimize the impact on the student services that we're providing through the Student Success Center, for example,” Spain said. “So we will have minimal cuts to zero cuts with the Learning Center, with Academic Retention Services, so that we can maintain those core student support student success services in the Student Success Center.”

Spain said not taking that approach would hurt students.

“Some of our programs will have a 0 percent cut, and other programs will have a 7 to 9 percent cut,” Spain said. “We're doing that so we minimize the number of disruptions of services in support of students.”

Director of Student Life Mark Lucas said that layoffs are in the future for the department.

“We will have fewer people,” Lucas said. “That's a fact; it's already in the books that way. We will have quite a few less people working in Student Life. We will have fewer student employees.”

Lucas said that the Department of Student Life is losing $100,000 a year and is increasingly having to do more with less.

“We only get $1 million in student fees,” Lucas said. “I say 'only' because if we're losing more than $100,000 a year, you're losing 10 percent of your entire budget in one year.”

MU Operations will be cutting 50 jobs, according to an email from Vice Chancellor Gary Ward obtained by the Columbia Missourian. Unfilled positions will remain unfilled, layoffs will occur and fewer student positions will be available in the fall.

Among other changes, faculty will be responsible for emptying the trash from their offices, and trash from Saturday football game tailgates will not be cleaned up until Monday. Snow removal and response times for maintenance requests will also be slower.

“We will be unable to sustain the level of service for which you have become accustomed,” Ward wrote in the email. “I do not anticipate that changes beginning July 1, 2016, will inhibit the academic mission at Mizzou, nor is it my intention for that to ever happen.”

The Trulaske College of Business will not be making layoffs, but it will be instituting the cuts in other ways, interim Dean Stephen Ferris said in an email.

“Unfortunately, we will be unable to grant merit raises for the coming year,” Ferris said in the email.

Kathryn Chval, dean of the College of Education, said her school will be eliminating positions from the administrative level down to graduate student level. She said in an email that faculty and staff have been professional throughout conversations regarding the budget cuts.

“Our faculty and professional staff have provided valuable insights into suggested cost-saving measures that we can make as well as ways in which we can increase revenue by offering further programs and services to the current Missouri workforce,” Chval said in the email.

In an email to faculty and staff following Foley’s announcement, Chval said that searches started before his announcement would be continued; future searches will depend on the necessity of the position.

MU Libraries will be losing $894,000 as a result of the budget cuts, according to the Missourian. These cuts will affect employee numbers, collections and hours. The libraries have already had to make cuts after a proposed library fee was failed.

Making the cuts

Lucas is allowing his staff to prioritize and decide what to cut. He said that he decides the monetary amount that programs will have to cut and his staff then has conversations.

“We sit down with everyone and say, 'OK guys, we can only do 80 things, let's figure out what those 80 things are for next year,’” Lucas said. “As these discussions are happening in each office, I have staff that will update me on those discussions.”

O’Brien said he is also allowing each department within the College of Arts and Science to decide what to cut. He said despite the hard conversations about the budget, the faculty has been cooperative and understanding.

“I think they've responded like the true great citizens of the campus they are,” O’Brien said. “I work carefully with the chairs of the departments and the programs, they work with their faculty, we try to make everything as transparent as possible … We don't like it, but at least we know everyone’s under the same gun, somebody's not being treated better or worse than someone else.”

The budget shortfall, Spain said, will have a multi-year impact. His department is already planning ahead to reduce disruption in future years.

“Our budget planning scenarios are actually accommodating to our need to think forward or think ahead … It allows us, I think, to have a better handle on what cuts and what size of cuts to make within programs this year that will minimize not only the disruption this year, but can help us minimize the disruption the next fiscal year as well,” Spain said.

While there will still be campus programs and activities for students, Lucas said, they will be different than they are currently.

“Our job is to make the out-of-class experience really meaningful,” Lucas said. “Our job is to provide those experiences for all the different components of our campus, and we will still be able to do that, we just may not be able to do that as much to benefit the people who are paying for it. It's going to change.”

Edited by Taylor Blatchford |

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