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Budget crunch may force UMSL layoffs

Millennium Student Center at UMSL
File: Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

The chancellor of the University of Missouri-St. Louis says a $15 million hole in the campus’ budget, prompted by reductions in state support and student enrollment, will probably lead to layoffs later this year.

In a campuswide message Friday, Chancellor Tom George notes that the $160 million operations budget for the campus comes primarily from state funding and student tuition. UMSL instituted a hiring freeze in December 2014 when enrollment dropped after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson. At the time, George cited a $2 million budget deficit.

Now, as the gap has grown, George is asking for advice from his colleagues on how spending can be reduced in particular areas, not across the board, as campus leaders work on a budget to be released in the spring. A university spokesman said UMSL is going to use more conservative projections for enrollment and state support in future budget planning, adding that the campus may have been overly optimistic in the past.

“Traditionally,” George wrote in his message to campus colleagues, “UMSL has somewhat assigned across-the-board budget cuts when reductions were necessary. This process allowed us to remain broad, but diminished our depth of quality. We no longer can nor should we operate this way. We need to focus on the activities that best support our students and their future in our community….

“We understand that this is not an easy issue to consider and an even harder one to articulate. But no one knows the campus better than you. So, please let us know your thoughts.”

And, according to a website set up by the campus to solicit ideas about where personnel should be cut, some people are likely to lose their jobs altogether.

“The unfortunate truth is a budget reduction of this magnitude will require layoffs,” the site says. “Employee compensation accounts for about 74% of operational expenditures. There is no definitive estimate yet of the number of individuals who will be affected.”

In the budget process, the site says, deans and other managers on the campus have been asked to prepare spending scenarios that include cuts of 5 percent, 10 percent and 15 percent. “Numerous groups and individuals will be consulted during this process,” the site says, “but the final decisions will be made by the chancellor and his senior advisers.

A university panel developed guidelines that can be used to determine budget priorities. The guidelines include:

  • Contribution to retention and/or recruitment of students, to philanthropy toward the institution, or to the long-term benefit of the UMSL brand.
  • Effect on the quality of learning.
  • Satisfying regulatory and accreditation standards.
  • Contribution to the campus’ metropolitan land-grant research institution mission and faculty scholarly activities.
  • Improving the university’s reach and reputation in the community.
  • Decisions with relative permanency, not easily changed.

“Ultimately,” the website says, “UMSL will need to concentrate its resources on providing students a quality educational experience through selected academic programs that lead to degree completion and successful alumni. We will need to build on our high-demand disciplines which the campus can afford to offer.
And the website asks for ideas about where personnel reductions may be made, complete with an electronic suggestions box.

“No one knows the campus better than you,” it says. “Please send ideas to help UMSL raise revenue or reduce expenditures to ensure the campus continues its tradition of providing classroom excellence and producing successful, work-ready graduates.”

The University of Missouri’s Board of Curators holds the license for St. Louis Public Radio.

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