Because of a projected drop in enrollment next semester after unrest in nearby Ferguson, the University of Missouri-St. Louis said Wednesday that it is instituting a hiring freeze, effective immediately.
In a message sent campus wide, Chancellor Tom George described “widespread anxiety about the region in general and north county in particular” that has had a consequence on area universities.
“Misplaced though it may be,” George added, “it is a perception affecting the community and UMSL.”
For the fall semester, which began shortly after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, UMSL appeared headed for an enrollment boost of 4 percent or more. It still managed to hit a record, with 12,161 students enrolled on campus, but that was an increase of about 1 percent.
Currently, registrations for the spring semester are down about 6 percent compared with last year, which translates to about 600 students. Last spring, on-campus enrollment was 11,724.
Many of the cancellations came at the last minute, as unrest persisted following the death of Brown.
That trend has continued, George said in his message Wednesday.
“Our spring registrations are actually showing a decrease at this time,” he said. “The result of this and other factors is that the campus budget currently is trending toward an estimated $2 million shortfall for the fiscal year that ends June 30. Therefore, I am taking efficiency measures that include, effective immediately, a hiring freeze that includes full-time faculty and staff positions.”
George is expected to address the issue more fully when the University of Missouri curators meet on the UMSL campus Thursday and Friday.
“I know many of you are working hard to close the spring enrollment gap,” George’s message concluded. “And according to the deans, we’re seeing improvement. Acknowledging that, it remains prudent to implement the freeze at this time to stabilize our expenditures….
“UMSL has always been a very lean institution – making the most of every resource to educate our students and serve our community. I know that together we will work through this situation and emerge focused on our core mission of education, research and service.”
The other college close to where protests in Ferguson have occurred is the Florissant Valley campus of St. Louis Community College. But Dan Kimack, spokesman for the St. Louis Community College system, said in an email that the spring semester enrollment is proceeding as expected.
“St. Louis Community College continues its enrollment process for the spring semester and has not seen any declines that would be attributable to the situation in Ferguson, neither at our Florissant Valley nor Forest Park campus.”
A spokesman for Saint Louis University said he did not know of any impact on enrollment there from the unrest.
Guidelines for the hiring freeze said some positions may not need to be filled at all, and filling others may be postponed. Positions covered by the freeze include all full-time faculty and staff, administrators and part-time staff.
Criteria for applying for exemptions to the freeze include positions that may contribute to health and safety of the UMSL campus or those covered by funding from an external source. Job offers that have been made and accepted will be allowed to stand.
Since demonstrations began in Ferguson after Brown’s death, UMSL and its chancellor have been actively involved in helping to improve conditions in the north St. Louis County area. George has sent out several messages to the campus detailing activities there. They have included assurances that the campus will remain safe as well as links to counseling and other services that students and staff may need during times of stress.
“Since the tragedies of early August,” he said in a message issued on Tuesday of this week, “UMSL has been here for St. Louis. Whether it has been with our expertise or our counsel – or our hands or our hearts – UMSL has been there. We have been there as individuals or groups; faculty, students, staff and alumni; participants or leaders; planners or doers. In any and all configurations, we have been part of those working toward the challenging myriad of complex solutions in an enlightened, objective and compassionate manner.”
“Perhaps we have been seen as being on the front line, an important part of the process of moving toward solutions or encouraging and fostering civil discourse. Whether it is for these reasons, or others, UMSL has been a safe and secure university, one that has not seen violence on or adjacent to the campus.
“Thousands have been on the UMSL campus for scores of debates and forums, workshops, symposia and peaceful dialogue regarding the situation in Ferguson and its aftermath. There has been no incivility toward one another. There have been no threats to people or property. There have been no security calls, coarseness, vulgarity or strife on the campus. It is an environment conducive to learning, productivity and growth for our students, faculty and staff. Furthermore, our excellent campus police are working with neighboring police departments to ensure the university stays safe and secure. That is our very first responsibility.”
At his annual state of the university address in September, George noted that Gov. Jay Nixon has used the UMSL campus for several announcements concerning state actions regarding Ferguson, and UMSL Professor Dan Isom – a retired police chief for the city of St. Louis -- was named to head the state’s department of public safety.
St. Louis Public Radio is a unit of the University of Missouri-St. Louis.