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Cost-Saving Consolidation At The University Of Central Missouri Upsets Liberal Arts Professors

Jimmy Emerson
Leaders at the University of Central Missouri have proposed paring down the number of colleges from four to three, but liberal arts professors aren't happy.

Liberal arts professors at the University of Central Missouri say a proposed reorganization that moves them into the College of Education would weaken instruction in the humanities and social science and threaten the school’s standing as a regional comprehensive university.

But it may be the only way to balance a budget that shrinks every year with declining state appropriations, UCM President Charles Ambrose says.

“We’re trying to do as much as we possibly can this semester,” Ambrose told students Tuesday at a budget forum in Warrensburg. “We’re trying to make as many of the decisions we have to make to meet these challenges as aggressively as we can so we don’t have to keep doing this year after year.”

Ambrose and other university leaders say the realignment is necessary with the deep cuts to higher education Gov. Eric Greitens proposed back in January. But in the months since, state lawmakers have walked back on $68 million in cuts in exchange for a cap on tuition increases.

Paring four colleges down to three would save the school between $600,000 and $800,000 per year.

“That’s year over year, that’s not a one-time cost,” Ambrose says. “Without eliminating any programs, without eliminating the faculty who teach you in your programs, but certainly an administrative realignment to ensure that we’re most efficient moving forward.”

The alignment moves departments currently in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences into a new College of Education and Liberal Arts. According to Ambrose, the number of full-time faculty and staff would remain around 526 next year, though a dean and five department chairs would be eliminated.

“I will tell you – because you’re very empathetic, and I know you care about people, your faculty and your programs – but in this, we’re trying to impact as few of people as we possibly can,” he said at the forum.

That UCM is still moving forward with the proposed changes in a more favorable political climate has faculty members such as Jon Taylor convinced it’s a mission charge under the guise of financial restructuring.

“What we do as a regional comprehensive is to make (a liberal arts) education affordable to low- and middle-income students so they do not have to go to an exclusive liberal arts college,” says Taylor, who has taught history at UCM for 13 years. “The message is that those majors are not welcome by eliminating our college.”

The latest iteration of the realignment proposal keeps the departments that teach the liberal arts together. An earlier version split those departments up. Though the colleges were unnamed in that draft, they were likely the College of Education, the College of Business and Professional Studies and the College of Health, Science and Technology.

Taylor points out that the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences has had an interim dean since October, which he says has left the liberal arts without an effective advocate in the budget process. In an email, a member of the UCM Faculty Senate confirmed that they were not given any special information or consideration prior to a presentation by the interim provost.

Taylor says his department routinely places interns at top-tier institutions like the Truman Library. He’s worried that sterling reputation will suffer if the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences is absorbed into the College of Education and loses its liberal arts focus.

“They’re going to lose faculty. They’re going to lose students. I’ll be honest with you, I would not advise my son who’s looking at college right now, if he wanted to go into the liberal arts, I’m not going to tell him to go to my university,” Taylor says.

The realignment proposal is still undergoing vetting, according to a spokesman for UCM, and is one of numerous cost-cutting measures under consideration. The budget for fiscal year 2019 will be adopted later this month.

Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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