MU makes case against cuts to freshman legislators

The university hopes to avoid possible budget decreases.

MU and UM system officials, after learning that the university would likely see a decrease in state appropriations, asked freshman Missouri state representatives to protect the university from large budget cuts.

On Wednesday night, school officials met with the legislators at a dinner held at the Life Sciences Center, where they confirmed what had been released to students earlier that day via e-mail.

The state faces a potential $340 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year ending in June, and MU has been asked to examine the possible impacts of a 15 to 25 percent reduction in its state funding. Given the school's annual appropriation of about $400 million, that amounts to a $60 million to $100 million cut.

The lawmakers visited the MU campus as part of a tour meant to familiarize them with issues around the state. The representatives were expected to visit Columbia on Thursday before returning to Jefferson City.

UM system President Gary Forsee, whose office released the e-mail to students just hours before the lawmakers arrived, said no decisions had been made about what the university would cut, but said salaries and tuition levels could be adjusted as part of the effort to close the gap.

"Benefits and correlation of benefits to salary and how we look at this particular situation in terms of tuition and fees, those are all in the range of possibilities that will have to be assessed as we take a look at this," he said.

Both Forsee and Chancellor Brady Deaton gave presentations outlining the growth of expenses at MU and why it is vital to maintain those funds.

Forsee said the university would be reluctant to make cuts that negatively affected the quality of its education.

"Over time, we are going to have to assess what this means to all of our employees, our faculty and staff and to our mission," Forsee said. "Our mission is something that we protect at any cost."

Deaton stressed the importance of maintaining stable funding for the school so it can continue to produce skilled workers, which he said would help lift the state from its financial doldrums.

"The University of Missouri, in these troubled economic times, is without a doubt one of the best investments the state could possibly make," Deaton said.

Forsee attributed the increased need for funding to MU's skyrocketing enrollment over the past seven years compared to other public universities in Missouri. Deaton said the school desperately needed the money to continue more than two dozen renovation projects either in-progress or slated for the near future in order to keep the campus structurally sound and technologically up-to-date.

"It's about keeping the windows sealed and the roofs from leaking," he said.

Rep.-elect Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, said striking a balance between reducing the deficit and maintaining the university's critical functions would be one of several challenges facing the new lawmakers.

"The downturn in the economy is going to affect not only higher education, but a lot of different programs across the state," Hoskins said. "As new legislators, we're going to have a tough time deciding on priorities and trying to do the best we can to make funds as available as possible."

Rep.-elect Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, said he would look for ways to shield MU from a major decrease in appropriations. Webber said the state excessively cut MU's budget during the last economic crisis in 2002 and he would not let it happen again.

"One of my main priorities is protecting MU," Webber said. "We've been through tough budget times before and the university has suffered disproportionately. I want to make sure that doesn't happen again, and make sure we don't get hurt in multiple economic crises."

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