Regents' review is more than numbers game

Saturday, September 27, 2003

The tension is thick at Southeast Missouri State University, as its board of regents prepares to go through the school and eliminate enough to recoup a $2.4 million shortfall in the current operating budget.

In the end, some faculty members likely will be without jobs. Some majors may not be offered. There have been whispers of those eventualities for months, as announcement after announcement of shortfalls came from the governor's office and were disseminated by Southeast president Dr. Ken Dobbins.

But the reality set in last week, when the board of regents gathered to explain some methodology and exactly what is on the chopping block. The review will begin with: geography, corporate communication, organizational administration, engineering physics, physics, medical technology, sociology, philosophy, family and consumer sciences education, family life studies, French, agriculture, food service and hospitality management, geoscience, speech, anthropology, theater and dance, and economics.

Those 18 majors made the list because they have fewer than 27 student majors annually on average over the past three years. Geography, for instance, has had one. Corporate communication averaged two.

School officials said they aren't sure how many of the programs might be eliminated or reduced over the next year and a half, but they're also looking at possible cuts in athletics and other nonacademic programs.

Some at the university already are objecting to using raw numbers of students as the basis for making cuts, but university officials are on record as saying that won't be the only measure. They will consider the expense of those programs and their quality.

For instance, when the rare geography major graduates from Southeast Missouri State University, what does he or she go on to do? Get a master's degree in the same field? Get a high-paying job in the field?

The answers to questions such as those could be the difference between a program making it through fiscal year 2005 or not.

The regents are considering establishing an early retirement plan and also approved a plan to allow the school to hire more nontenured faculty, who typically have a larger teaching load and make less money than tenured faculty.

But some are encouraging the university to leave the faculty alone, looking for other areas to reduce and considering ways to make money. For example, Dr. Paul Lloyd, a psychology professor and president of the Faculty Senate, suggests selling the naming rights for the Show Me Center.

Certainly, there needs to be a productive exchange regarding how the cuts can be made with the least pain to students and their instructors. With the decisions to be announced Nov. 14 and another assessment of different programs to begin next year, those conversations must begin now.

However, in this economy, private businesses have been forced to assess their operations and make cuts where possible to stay afloat. While the university isn't a business per se, it is going to have to make a similar assessment and streamline its operations to be sure it can keep turning out its important product: Students who have had the best education possible.

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