At a time when employees at two of its campuses face layoffs because of a financial crunch, curators of the University of Missouri spent $10,700 this week to meet at a Franklin County conference center rather than on university property.
The board held what it called a “development session” Wednesday at the Cedar Creek conference center in New Haven. No votes were taken at the meeting, whose agenda said it was held to discuss “board best practices.”
Asked why the board, which currently has only six members, met at the center rather than in a space on one of the university’s four campuses, system spokesman John Fougere said in an email:
“The board chose the location for the session to allow the members and University leadership an opportunity to concentrate on challenges and develop solutions to those challenges in an environment away from the distraction of every-day jobs and responsibilities, and regularly chooses locations for development sessions in places other than the four campuses, where they visit every year.
“The board’s development session at a remote location is similar to what leadership at many corporations, government agencies and other universities do on an annual or regular basis to stimulate creative thought, build strategies for future excellence and find solutions to challenging problems.”
Fougere said money to pay for the meeting did not come from tuition revenue or state appropriations. He also said the board held similar offsite meetings in Ridgedale, Mo., last year as well as in Columbia in 2014 and in Kansas City in 2011.
In an interview, he said he thought the cost of the meeting was well worth what curators would get out of it.
"The expenditure of $10,000 in a $3.1 billion enterprise, so the board can take time to really home in on solutions and tackle these challenges we're facing, including the budgetary problems, is something I think frankly the public would expect them to do."
He noted that even if the curators had met on a campus, the meeting would have cost money for consultants and curators' expenses. He also said that going to different parts of the state, where the school has no campuses, is important for curators to do.
"The university's responsibility is to serve all 6 million Missourians," Fougere said.
The conference center bills itself as an “inspiring environment” for corporate meetings and retreats, with rustic scenery and modern amenities.
“We welcome your group with unparalleled hospitality and an experience that is handcrafted for your groups,” its website says. “Whether you’re looking for a private meeting space or team building facilities, Cedar Creek has the accommodations and staff to make it your best event yet.”
The Columbia Daily Tribune reported that the offsite meeting was facilitated by Rick Legon, president of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. He led a discussion on how the board has functioned in recent months, which have included demonstrations on the Columbia campus, the departure of system president Tim Wolfe and Mizzou chancellor R. Bowen Loftin and the firing of faculty member Melissa Click.
Describing attitudes toward the university and the board during that time, Legon said:
“In many ways, Missouri has been the piñata for higher education since last fall.”
It has also been hit hard financially by a drop in enrollment on the St. Louis and Columbia campuses.
As a result, UMSL has adopted a two-year financial plan to close its $15 million budget gap that includes the elimination of up to 85 positions. In Columbia, the budget shortfall is twice the size as UMSL’s; no final estimate was available for positions that may be eliminated. Both campuses have instituted hiring freezes.
For a time, it appeared the university might also be punished financially by the Missouri legislature, in response to its handling of the racial protests and the firing of Click at Mizzou. But in the end, while funds for the system’s administration were cut, the university would up with more money overall.
The University of Missouri’s Board of Curators holds the license for St. Louis Public Radio.
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