The University of Missouri system is shaving $101 million from the budgets of its four campuses, resulting in the loss of 474 jobs.
At the University of Missouri-Kansas City, $15.4 million is coming out its budget and 51 positions are being eliminated. That includes the jobs of four non-tenured faculty members of the 18 instructors in UMKC’s popular theater department.
UM System President Mun Choi announced the cut Friday afternoon, speaking to faculty, staff and students on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia where the lion’s share of the job loss will occur.
“We are facing a period of significant budget constraints that will require us to take bold actions to become a stronger academic institution in both the short and long term,” Choi said.
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The system’s operating budget is $1.2 billlion. System officials said the budget and jobs cuts are being made to deal reduced state funding for public higher education and because of a significant decline in enrollment and revenue from tuition dollars.
System leaders have said that some of the financial problems are backlash, particularly for the flagship campus, Mizzou, from the racially charged protests that erupted on the Columbia campus in the fall of 2015.
Those protests toppled the system and campus leadership. How the university handled them marred MU’s reputation with potential students and their families and sent them looking for their education elsewhere. It also upset Missouri legislators, who thought the university’s leadership overreacted. They threatened to withhold and cut money from the campus.
The Missouri General Assembly passed a budget with a 6.58 percent decrease in core funding for universities statewide. That’s after a 7.6 percent withholding announced by the governor in January 2017.
Earlier this year Choi asked the four campuses to outline how they might trim 8 percent to 12 percent from their budgets. The reports released on Friday represent several months of work on each campus involving input from campus leaders and faculty committees.
The financial squeeze is being felt at all four of the campuses — Kansas City, Columbia, St. Louis and Rolla.
The Columbia campus will see nearly $60 million in cuts compared to $8.8 million in cuts at Missouri University of Science and Technology, and $13.7 million at the St. Louis campus.
At UMKC Shane Rowse, assistant teaching professor of lighting technology and one of the four losing his job in the theater department, said he thought the department would suffer a death by attrition.
“You don’t have to kill a plant by digging it up,” Rowse said. “You just stop watering it.” Rowse said he expects to return to freelance theatrical work in August.
A “Save UMKC Theatre” town hall will be held 6 p.m. Sunday at the Helen F. Spencer Theatre on UMKC’s campus. Local theatrical artists and UMKC Theatre faculty, students and alumni will speak at the event, which organizers said aims to demonstrate public support for the department.
The decision to make the cuts to the UMKC theater department came from a committee of faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences, UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton said.
Theater was not the only area where cuts are being made and jobs were lost. A faculty member at the dental school is out of a job, as are three employees at the university library.
UMKC also would cut $1.3 million from its athletic department. It eliminated some spending on scholarships that would instead be funded through private donations.
At the MU campus in Columbia, the jobs of about 307 faculty, staff and administrative positions are being eliminated to save about $28 million. On top of that, about 35 graduate positions are being cut.
As part of those job eliminations, the executive vice chancellor for MU Health is being laid off, saving $750,000, and the chief operating officer for MU Health is also being laid off, saving $650,000.
In addition to those top jobs, at the UM system level, the vice president for academic affairs research and economic development is out and so is the vice president for university relations, together a savings of about $654,000.
Not all the positions cut meant layoffs. Among the nearly 500 positions eliminated, some represent retirements, resignations or vacancies that would not be filled.
“The impact on Mizzou’s people is the most difficult aspect of the short-term plan,” said Ben Trachtenberg, president of the MU faculty senate.
There may be more cuts and efficiencies to come on all the campuses to meet spending targets and to assure that the changes being made can be sustained.
“The decisions yet to be made are important and will be difficult,” Trachtenberg said.
If we want to do this well, we must include faculty and staff from the beginning, not just after a draft plan is written. Faculty do the teaching and research, and we are best prepared to lead discussions about reviewing academic programs.”
Choi expressed compassion for the faculty and staff members who on Friday were out of a job.
“They did not lose their jobs through any fault of their own,” Choi said, “ Some have served the university for over 40 years. We thank them for their service. I wish this didn’t have to happen.”
But given that the majority of the university budget is spent on personnel, campus leaders said it would not be possible to absorb the lost revenue without job losses.
Choi said he reviewed “line by line,” every cut position and the explanations campus leaders gave for why certain positions needed to go. He said he heard such reasons as duplication of service or that the job being done “no longer supports the mission of the university.”
Campus leaders say the reductions are strategic and some money saved will be reinvested in the schools in the form of some new hires, increased campus security, and strategies for increasing enrollment including new scholarship programs.
“There are some things we need to invest in,” Morton said. He mentioned health life sciences, urban education, and mechanical engineering. UMKC intends to hire at least 25 new faculty members. Across all four campuses, more than 200 new faculty members will be hired.
The cuts and investments being made at UMKC, Morton said, are just the beginning of changes coming to the Kansas City campus.
“This is not just about cutting but it is about finding opportunities,” Morton said.
He said that UMKC has set a target to cut spending as much as $30 million over the next two years. Some savings could be met, he said, through increased revenue from tuitions and possible program eliminations.