University works its way toward solutions

Sunday, October 26, 2003

It's getting close to the Nov. 14 meeting when cost-savings cuts at Southeast Missouri State University will be recommended to the board of regents.

Because of current state funding levels, university officials say they need to reduce annual expenses by $2.4 million. Under consideration are cuts, restructuring and other efficiencies in both academic and nonacademic programs.

Last week, university president Ken Dobbins told Faculty Senate members that the budget shortfall can no longer be made up by again increasing students' tuition and fees. In recent years, those costs have gone up dramatically at state-supported schools across Missouri as appropriations have felt the impact of a wobbly economy.

While several options for cost reduction have been offered as discussion topics, university administrators say they haven't yet determined how much money would be saved by each of the proposals. Some faculty members and even members of the community have questioned how various cuts could be seriously evaluated without knowing how much money would be saved.

Some faculty members have suggested there should be more emphasis on nonacademic areas instead of eliminating some programs and majors that will result in the termination of faculty members -- even those with tenure.

And some within the university say more cuts need to be made in administrators rather than within the teaching ranks.

As might be expected in a large institution where serious adjustments have to be made so that revenue matches expenditures, the university is experiencing a great deal of "cut whatever you need to -- as long as it isn't me or my program."

Eighteen academic programs are under review. Some will likely be eliminated, and this will mean a reduction in faculty. Officials are looking at an early-retirement program for faculty members in affected programs. In addition, six nonacademic areas are being evaluated to see if they can either be cut or repositioned to be less dependent on direct university support. Some athletic programs are included in this review.

The university has been engaged in a long process to come up with a plan that achieves budgetary goals while protecting the university's core programs. Steps already have been taken that have permitted the university to operate within available funding. The outlook for Missouri's budget is no brighter now than it was a year ago. Legislative analysts see a ready-made shortfall of nearly $1 billion in the state budget that will have to be adopted in the session that begins in January.

Given the state's financial situation and the university's need to find ways to provide the best services with available funds, officials at Academic Hall as well as faculty and staff members who have participated in the effort to find the best solutions are to be commended for their handling of what has to be a terribly tough and disruptive task.

In the end, however, Southeast will still be a strong university that provides an excellent value for residents of Southeast Missouri who want a college degree.

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