Staff open forum addresses budget restraints, job security
Vice Chancellor of Operations Gary Ward: “We’ve got a dark cloud right now over the institution. We can’t sugarcoat that.”
May. 01, 2016
In a climate of budget constraints and staff unrest, a panel of seven MU administrators fielded questions and concerns from staff regarding job security, career paths and salaries during an open forum April 26, the first open forum for staff members since October.
MU is facing a projected freshman enrollment decline of 1,500 for the fall 2016 semester and a $32 million budget shortfall for the 2016–17 school year.
In addition to the cut, the UM System’s state funding will decrease by $3.8 million.
For staff, this means raises are unlikely. Staff members are nonacademic employees who work in administrative, service and operations positions, such as secretaries, supervisors and directors of organizations and departments on campus.
“We get significantly more of our general budget from the students’ tuition than we do from the state,” Vice Chancellor of Finance Rhonda Gibler said. “We are going to have a shortfall in our budget without giving raises.”
To tackle budget restraints, Vice Chancellor of Operations Gary Ward said the administration is working on increasing revenue through using campus facilities to hold more events.
The Department of Student Affairs is looking to expand the section of The Mizzou Store that sells clothing and other items unaffiliated with MU, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Cathy Scroggs said. The department is also working to promote dining halls and on-campus living and parking.
One staff member asked what protections are in place for staff who want to stand with protesting students but fear receiving negative press and losing their jobs.
Last fall, assistant communication professor Melissa Click was fired by the Board of Curators after a video of her surfaced calling for “muscle” to remove a reporter from the Concerned Student 1950 campsite. Assistant Director of Greek Life Janna Basler was also involved in an altercation with a student journalist in which she told him to leave. She was subsequently placed on administrative leave for a month.
The staff member said that staff have been told not to vocalize their solidarity.
“Students have been protesting and staff members have wanted to stand with their students, but have been continually told, ‘Stay in your seats,’” the staff member said. “Faculty have tenure, students are protected under certain free speeches, but in Missouri you can be fired without reason or if you support the wrong thing.”
Administrators tell another story.
“As you can tell from a lot of the things that have gone on, if you think it’s a clear line in terms of First Amendment rights, et cetera, it’s not,” interim Associate Vice Chancellor of Human Resource Services Jatha Sadowski said. “I would say because I work in HR and the grievances and terminations come through my office, that the notion that when people speak up they are targeted is possibly exaggerated. I have not seen it.”
Sadowski said there are staff protections in terms of hourly nonexempt employees, progressive discipline, grievance and equity processes.
“I’ve been here 23 years,” Sadowski said. “I don’t say everything that I feel on every issue because I do think we try and support the organization or say it in a way that is productive.”
Morale and salary concerns
In response to a staff member’s question about what Ward, as a leader, is doing to improve employee morale, Ward said his focus is honesty.
“We’ve got a dark cloud right now over the institution,” Ward said. “We can’t sugarcoat that. We’ve got some issues: budget issues, cultural issues — we’ve got some issues. What we’ve been trying to do in (the operations division) is to be very open and honest about those issues and try to communicate with our employees, very candidly, about current issues and future issues and what we are trying to do to address those issues.”
In further consideration of budget restraints, Chuck Henson, interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity, said that in his division, administrators are “being efficient in the use of resources that (they) understand are precious and scarce.”
Henson said the idea is to take advantage of existing structures and merge them together to create the division rather than extend resources to create an entirely new structure and jobs.
Staff members questioned former Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin’s $459,000 salary and immediate tenure in his new position. Despite stepping down from his chancellor position and taking on the role of director for research facility development, his salary remains unchanged even though the transition agreement he signed in November stated that his new position will pay him 75 percent of his current salary.
Sadowski said Loftin has been overseeing research, and his high salary is contractual from his previous role as chancellor.
Despite difficult financial times, Gibler said when MU hires people for high academic positions, the university must offer immediate tenure because those they are looking to hire usually have had it in their previous jobs and are unwilling to forgo it.
When asked about career opportunities for staff, Sadowski said the Human Resources Development Committee has published information on its website about available career paths. In June, the committee hopes to hold informational sessions throughout campus about those opportunities.
Edited by Claire Mitzel | firstname.lastname@example.org