Missouri Southern president leads review of university operations

John Hacker

When Dr. Bruce Speck came to Missouri Southern in January, he knew he was coming to a university with financial problems, but the scope of those problems didn't come into focus until he settled into his new office in Hearnes Hall.

What he took over was a university that was spending its reserves and stands on the brink of running out of money.

Even after withholding $300,000 in raises for faculty and staff, the Board of Governors approved a budget that would see the university spending $2.7 million more than it would take in in tuition, fees and state and federal money.

The Board of Governors added a caveat that Speck and the administration cut an additional $500,000 from that budget.

"We're really looking at everything," Speck said. "Even something as small as, well in the past we sent flowers out of this office for people who were in the hospital. Now we send cards. Last year we paid $6,000 to $7,000 for an international party for international students. Now we've cut way down on that.

"Every time we have a budget item come forward, we look at it, assess it and see if it can be trimmed. We've populated the department budgets with half of their budgeted allotment and we will see where they are half way through the budget year."

Even if successful, it leaves administrators with the unpleasant knowledge that in the next two fiscal years, despite rising costs for fuel, food and almost everything else it takes to run a university, they will have to cut more than $2 million from the budget to keep from spending more than MSSU has in the bank.

The university's 2008-2009 budget calls for $66.6 million in revenues, $69.3 million in spending and a little more than $4 million in reserves. Even if administrators cut the $500,000 as called for by the board, MSSU will only have $1.8 million in reserves. This means without a significant increase in enrollment, administrators will have to cut an additional $400,000 in 2009-2010 and spend all the university's reserves to keep operating.

In 2010-2011, the university will have no more reserves, meaning it will have to cut another $1.8 million from the budget, at a time when the expenses to maintain two major new buildings, the Beimdiek Student Recreation Center and a new health sciences building are being added to the budget.

Speck said even after the university rights its budgetary ship, administrators and staff would have to learn a new way of doing business in order to remain financially solvent.

"We're planning two campus-wide economic summits this fall for administration and faculty," Speck said. "We'll have one in the morning and one in the afternoon, that way everyone can come. We want everyone to be aware of the situation and be given some basic economic directives about how we get our money, how it's spent and some things we might all think about doing."

He said the university would have to fix its financial problems even as one of its main sources of revenue, the state of Missouri, faces tough times as well.

"We do have some challenges especially when you think about the potential next year when the legislature comes into session looking at some very tough financial issues as well, so that compounds what we're doing a little bit," Speck said. "We have to be solvent, we can't go into bankruptcy."

Carthage Press