Southeast faculty gets advice on budget concerns

Friday, April 23, 2010
Southeast Missourian/Fred Lynch Academic Hall

In light of trying budget times in higher education, faculty at Southeast Missouri State University are seeking advice about their rights.

Faculty invited Dr. David Robinson, vice president of the Missouri Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, to answer questions during a town-hall meeting Thursday.

About 20 faculty came in and out of the meeting during the hourlong presentation. They posed questions about collective bargaining, term limits for administrators and the legality of the faculty handbook. Robinson also met with the Faculty Senate during its Wednesday meeting.

"One of the reasons we brought David in was to educate ourselves," said Faculty Senate chairwoman Dr. Stephanie Chamberlain.

The association advocates for academic freedom and shared governance at universities throughout the country. Robinson, a history professor at Truman State University, said Southeast is further along in its budget cutting process than others.

"Reorganization should be done through shared governance," he said during the Faculty Senate meeting.

During both meetings he shared his perspective on dealing with governing issues. Legislation in Missouri, he said, does not enable unionization, which is stronger in other states. Frequent changes in university presidents creates unsteadiness, but lower-level administrators should change more often with faculty sharing in the responsibilities. Robinson advocated creating liaisons with other governing bodies within the university and maintaining a strong faculty handbook.

At Southeast, the document came into question during the recent Board of Regents meeting when the board approved the elimination of the management information systems program. The Faculty Senate had passed a resolution requesting the board postpone the decision to bring the handbook in line with board procedures approved in 2003 for program elimination.

Chamberlain said the Senate has started updating its policies regarding faculty termination during financial emergencies. She said faculty are fearful of not being protected because the policies do not match.

"We feel like we're being marginalized," Chamberlain said of faculty participation in the budget review.

The university held three forums in March. Subcommittees were set up to reduce budgets in specific areas like athletics, academics and scholarships. The forums, she said allowed for comments, but faculty feel like they will have little effect on decisions.

"We can offer our input, but it's not going to be used because decisions are already made," she said.

University president Dr. Ken Dobbins said faculty have a significant number of opportunities to participate in budget recommendations.

All but one member of the subcommittee set up to review academics are faculty members, he said. Of 300 slots in standing university committees, 113 are reserved for faculty, he said.

Reviews in many areas, including academics, continues as the university identifies millions in budget cuts over the next two years.

"I think we're all concerned because we have to do it," he said.

Dobbins said the university's budget review process is a clear definition of shared governance because students, faculty and staff have many opportunities to participate in forums and committees.

"There are very few universities that do what we do," he said.

abusch@semissourian.com

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