The Southeast Missouri State University Board of Regents will decide today on the first of several measures to create a smaller budget under pressure of probable reductions in state appropriations for higher education.
University president Dr. Ken Dobbins predicts a consolidation of two academic colleges, staff changes prompted by retirements and vacancies and budget cuts in various departments will help the university deal with a $3.3 million cut to its overall annual budget.
Combining the College of Science and Mathematics and the School of Polytechnic Studies into the College of Science, Technology and Agriculture and eliminating two deans and an administrative position will save the university around $250,000, according to Dobbins. The dean of polytechnic studies retired last year. Now one dean will oversee the newly combined school.
Dobbins said Wednesday that some university faculty weren't initially in favor of combining the schools.
"Some people don't like it, because they want to have their own. But financially, you can't do that," he said.
According to Dobbins, the decision by the university and the name of the combined school were a "sticky point."
The change has undergone review by departments, an academic council, deans and the provost.
Dobbins said he doesn't think students will be affected by the change, and if anything, their experience will be better because of collaboration between departments. No other colleges were considered for combination because no others were as good a fit together, Dobbins said. The board will consider a motion for the combination in open session today.
Another change coming will deal with the university's staff roster. There are three deans, six chairmen and 30 faculty vacancies set for the next academic year, with many of those vacancies caused by retirements of tenured professors. The vacancies equal around 10 percent of the university's total number of faculty members. While some vacancies will not be filled, others will be, by non-tenure track faculty.
Dobbins said he doesn't think nontenured faculty will affect student outcomes and that the move is a good way of getting excellent faculty at a lower price.
"It's not the quality we are talking about; they just get paid less than a tenured or tenure-track position," he said.
Cuts to operational budgets will also help the university meet budget demands by saving $500,000 to $600,000.
The university was looking at a $5.2 million cut under a first proposal released by Gov. Jay Nixon that would have cut 12.5 percent from the budgets of public colleges and universities. The blow was softened slightly in early February when Nixon announced plans to add $40 million back based on funds Missouri is expected to receive as part of a settlement between the state and mortgage lenders.
State Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, announced opposition to the governor's plan during a Senate meeting in Jefferson City this week.
Some legislators, including Crowell, compare Nixon's proposed level of funding with an amount originally proposed to fund public colleges and universities in 1997. Crowell said he has many questions and even more doubts that the $40 million will come through, and that other funding promised could be withheld by the governor.
"All we have about that $40 million is a press release from the attorney general's office, saying it's happening," Crowell said. "Everyone's going around saying it's real money."
Crowell said the state doesn't know when the money is coming and that universities need to be able to base their budgets on real money.
"I'm not asking those questions because I want to cut higher education, I am asking those questions because our universities deserve honesty," he said. "And the solution I am hearing to all this is that $40 million just dropped out of the sky."
Crowell said the legislature should instead be looking at balancing the state's budget by cutting tax credits and pensions, as well as money spent in prisons on nonviolent offenders.
The board of regents meets at 1:30 p.m. today in the Glenn Auditorium inside Dempster Hall on the university campus.
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