Missouri Southern departments take heavy cuts during budget crunch
The departments that educate and provide services to students at Missouri Southern State University will lose 10 percent of their budgets this year as part of a plan to deal with the university's dwindling reserves.
Missouri Southern President Bruce Speck ordered across-the-board cuts of 10 percent to all department operating budgets for the year that started on July 1 to help meet a request by the Board of Governors that administrators cut $500,000 from the budget.
While these operating budgets amount to a little more than $5 million, only about 7 percent of the university's total of more than $69 million in spending, paring those budgets back will account for much of the cuts needed to reduce the university's overall deficit and meet the board's request.
"If you take $5 million roughly, and take 10 percent of that, that's your half a million," Speck said. "Now there are other things we're going to try to do, this is not the only thing. We're looking at other budgets to trim as much as we can, but this is a fairly significant trimming because we're talking about budgets that, for our departments, are going to be 10 percent less than they normally would be.
"When you look at $5 million, it is not as though that is a huge amount of operating money out of our total budget. We're pretty thin."
There were winners and losers among each of the 30 department budgets, according to numbers provided by Missouri Southern Director of Budgeting Jeff Gibson, but most individual budgets will end up shrinking after the 10 percent cuts are added.
One of the biggest losers in the budget was the International Studies department. In 2008, that department was scheduled to spend $472,453, but even before the 10 percent cut, that budget had been reduced to $332,453. Add in the 10 percent cut and the budget for international studies stands at $299,208, a cut of more than one third.
Dr. Chad Stebbins, director of international studies, said that kind of cut would deeply impact the number of students Missouri Southern sends to foreign countries.
He said the cuts are ironic in that they come as Missouri Southern is adding a new freshman orientation class, called the University Experience, that emphasizes the travel abroad offered by MSSU's international mission.
"Since we started sending students abroad to study in 1996, we've sent nearly 2,300 students abroad," Stebbins said. "I'm figuring that the cuts will only allow us to have about $120,000 for faculty-student, study-abroad trips when last year we had $260,000. I anticipate the end of the Oxford program, which we've had since 1987. That program has allowed 288 students to spend a three-week summer program at Oxford University in England."
Stebbins said the cuts could also result in cutting in half the number of shorter trips abroad led by faculty members. Last year there were 12 such trips sponsored by the university, but this year there may only be six. He said the university provides students with grants of between $1,000 and $1,500 to help them pay the costs of these trips depending on their need.
"We've found these to be a good way for students who are native to Southwest Missouri to have their first study-abroad experience," Stebbins said. "Someone who has never left Southwest Missouri is not very likely to go to another country for an entire semester or year unless they've first gone on a short-term study-abroad trip led by a faculty member."
Speck said the international mission was a program that had a larger budget and could absorb the cuts without permanently harming the program.
"We think that they're going to be able to deal with that," Speck said. "There are already expenses they have this year with that related to the themed semester, so I think those are taken care of. By and large that's just a place where we had a large bulk of money. We had to look at it and work together, and we did. We talked to Chad, we talked to him about this. I think John Messick talked to him about this so we can do this reasonably."
He repeated his commitment to Missouri Southern's international mission.
"We really want to be clear about this, we're not talking about phasing out the international mission, we're not trying to hurt it," Speck said. "We're simply doing a business analysis here, saying when you look at the pools of money, that's one of the largest ones. So when you talk about a major cut, you're going to start making a cut there. Then in addition to that you will have the 10 percent."
The operating budget for athletics is the largest among the operating budgets mainly because it pays for travel to transport MSSU's sports teams to the far-flung corners of the MIAA conference. In 2008, that department was budgeted to spend $855,019 and in the preliminary 2009 budget it was scheduled to go up by more than $200,000 to $1,068,325.
Gibson said the higher number was what the athletics department actually spent in 2008 and reflected the increasing costs of travel.
"It's actually a reflection of actual 08 expenditures," Gibson said. "Transportation costs increased so much that it was necessary to get to that level just to cover those costs."
Speck said the addition of the University of Nebraska-Omaha to the MIAA means those costs are likely to increase this year, but athletics will have to absorb the same 10 percent cut that the other departments will have to take, meaning they will actually have $961,492 to spend in the coming year.
MSSU Athletic Director Sallie Beard said travel costs have been rising dramatically since 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and cause gasoline prices to first spike above $3 a gallon.
"We've been playing catch-up ever since," Beard said. "We have fixed travel commitments. We're committed to a football schedule that's been fixed out to 2012. When you are a member of a conference, you can't just call up and say gas is too high we can't come."
Speck said athletics is unique in that it can reach out to supporters for private donations to help make up for the cuts.
Beard said that is true, but some sports have more supporters than others. She said all coaches have been briefed on the cuts and are committed to helping make the situation work.
"I think the coaches are on board and we hope we can help succeed with Dr. Speck's vision of what we have to do," Beard said. "The best thing we can do is put Missouri Southern out there as an attractive place to play athletics. One way we can help chip away at the budget problem is to bring more students to Southern."