Worries about potential staff layoffs at MU were not assuaged Tuesday after an open forum allowed staff to ask questions to university administrators.
About 100 people attended the forum, which was hosted by the MU Staff Advisory Council, an organization that acts as a liaison between staff and administration on campus. Staff members were invited to submit questions beforehand, which were presented to a panel of administrators along with questions from the attendees.
Talk of layoffs began with an April 3 email from UM System President Mun Choi, who announced that cuts to staff and non-tenure track faculty might be necessary in order to cut the system’s budget by 8 to 12 percent for fiscal year 2018 in order to keep up with an expected loss of state funding.
There are about 7,000 to 8,000 staff employed by MU, said Chrissy Kintner, chair of the council. That number jumps to 13,000 when you include employees of University Hospital.
Members of the panel emphasized that conversations about layoffs are ongoing and nothing has been finalized. But the panel confirmed that, in the event of layoffs, the transition assistance program, which provides temporary income and benefits, would remain in place.
That’s the answer Kintner expected.
“I think we knew that it was still too early,” she said. “And I also don’t know that this would’ve been the appropriate place to announce that.”
Some layoffs have already been decided. Earlier this month, the MU division of operations informed 20 administrative employees they would be laid off, effectively July 1, MU spokesman Christian Basi confirmed. These layoffs, in addition to five retiring employees that won't be replaced, will save MU $1.75 million for the 2018 fiscal year.
Staff also raised the issue of dwindling morale in light of the budget crisis facing both MU and the four-campus UM System.
Rhonda Gibler, vice chancellor for finance, has been hearing about morale issues for a long time.
“I have heard people say morale is at an all-time low for 23 years,” Gibler said.
Morale isn’t just about how much people get paid, she said, but also job security and the relationships staff members have with their coworkers and MU.
“All that said, I would suspect that perhaps we are at an all-time low,” she said.
The general anxiety was a consistent theme throughout the forum.
A staff member asked about whether vacancies in the Student Affairs Division, which handles campus dining, the counseling center and the Student Recreation Center, among others, would be filled. In an April 3 email, Jennifer Hollingshead, MU Interim Vice Chancellor for Marketing and Communications, said those positions might not be filled, Missourinet reported.
Hollingshead called the email a “slice of time,” and said it is not indicative that administration was targeting certain divisions.
Others questioned whether cuts to the salaries of university administration were a possibility to mitigate budget woes. They said some departments are still offering raises and and making hires.
Nothing is off the table, Gibler said. Each division is responsible for its own budget, she said, so there is some discretion allowed.
Gibler also encouraged attendees to be hopeful. MU may be going through tough times, she said, and it make take a few years to get better. But it will get better, she said.
"You can’t do my job if you don’t start from hope," she said.
The full panel included Gibler; Hollingshead; Gary Ward, Vice Chancellor Operations; Patty Haberberger, Vice Chancellor Human Resources; Kevin McDonald, UM System Chief Diversity Officer & MU Interim VC for Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity; Cathy Scroggs, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs; Kelli Holland, Human Resources Director and Ellen Eardley, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Civil Rights and Title IX.
An open forum with administrators is held twice each year. The last forum took place in the fall.