AAUP Meeting with President Sue Thomas
March 29, 2017
Present: President Sue Thomas, Marc Rice (AAUP president), Marc Becker (AAUP secretary), Kathryn Brammall (AAUP treasurer), Mark Hatala (AAUP vice-president), Anton Daughters, Sergio Escobar
1. Gov. Greitens. For a recent meeting with COPHE (Council of Public Higher Education, the group of 13 public universities in Missouri) representatives, the Governor’s Office specifically requested that one of the representatives be from TSU. During that meeting he highlighted his focus on “excellence.” He indicated a strong appreciation of excellence, but emphasized that excellence requires both discipline and the making of hard choices. There is a sense in Jefferson City that some “bloat” exists within the higher education and that higher education funding is somewhat “discretionary” in relationship to other types of funding, a sentiment that is not new in the capitol.
Obviously we are still learning what to expect of the new administration and legislators, but it has been made very clear that the Governor’s Office prefers that campuses limit tuition increases to the 2.1% CPI increase permitted under state statute (SB389). There will be no united request from COPHE institutions for a waiver, though individual institutions can make such a request if they choose, understanding that doing so is likely to result in very thorough state scrutiny of the campus budgets and operations. Raising tuition above the CPI cap without a waiver results in a cut in state funding. TSU was the only state institution that initiated a student surcharge to deal with current year (8%) reduction and was asked to explain its reasoning. Our justifications were accepted.
President Thomas believes that though the upcoming reduction in core funding (possibly as much as 9%) will prove difficult, it provides an opportunity for us to really examine our mission and reallocate funds so as to make our mission sustainable long term. In addition, taking the long view may work in our favor, especially if the state moves to funding higher education institutions individually as has been mentioned as a possibility. TSU has a good reputation in the capitol (both with governor and legislators) and has good lobbyists explaining our strengths as an institution.
2. Faculty salaries. Can’t imagine that we will get raises. Last year we received 2.5% + a bit more for full professors. We have an expensive faculty model. 80% are tenure lines, but the national average is 29%. Other universities rely on adjuncts. What is the right size for our faculty? Right now we’re at about 329 and since 2012 faculty size has gone up while student enrollment has gone down. We can’t compensate faculty properly with our current model. Student-faculty ratio is below 15:1. In the late 1990s a lot of tenure line faculty were hired at low salaries, and are still here. (KB: problem is that they were hired on soft money—Funding For Results—without a way for the university to incorporate salaries into the base budget.) We also have a problem of paying students to come here, hoping that other students will follow. We are a product of historical decisions that haven’t been modified. We need to figure out what to do to redress these problems.
The board hires 2 positions: the president and general counsel. The president hires the rest of the administrators and controls their salaries, so the President does not envision that replacement administrative hires will see an increase in salaries.
We are going to retain a consultant for enrollment management so we can develop a sophisticated model that addresses declining enrollment in a rational way and uses our discounts/scholarships in the most effective way. The Arts & Sciences Report raised important issues, but was shelved apparently due to campus discomfort with its findings and recommendations. We can no longer ignore evidence just because we fear change or are risk averse. We need to address these challenges head on. If we stay committed to current recruiting strategies, our enrollment will go down. We need to diversify the campus including giving more opportunities to lower-income students. We need faculty on board to make changes and diversifying or offering admission to some students outside our traditional recruiting pool means we will need to provide more support to students, including providing need-based aid (most of our aid is merit-based aid). A decrease in full-time students is a huge problem, and we can’t make it up with part-time students. Our focus has been on head count rather than net revenue and this has contributed to our current institutional aid issues.
The future predicts less state funding rather than more. We need more students who are willing to pay. Our discount rate is 40% compared to 19% for other state institutions. Currently students list their principal reason for attending Truman as its low cost and only after that mention the other terrific things we do. We need to alter how we market ourselves to address this. We do well in rankings but these results are generally based on inputs rather than achievements (i.e., outputs). Our graduation and retention rates are good but aren’t at the level where they should be. We need to re-examine the concept of value added and determine what it means today. We are not a campus physically built for just 4,000 students. Being a liberal arts institution for 6,000 is complicated—most are much smaller. How do we make being a significantly larger public liberal arts university work? To remain a primarily residential campus, we need to do other things that will generate revenue.
Online education is a different method of instruction. We shouldn’t go all online, but we make things more difficult by refusing to consider offering suitable semester classes in a nontraditional format. It wouldn’t change fundamentally who we are, but we need to be more open to changes.
We’ve been afraid to say, “public liberal arts is the education for the 21st century. If you come to Truman, you can have it all.” Residual elements remain. A disadvantage is that we are risk averse. We only think about how change can negatively affect us, rather than how it can benefit us. As an institution, we are hesitant to take good calculated risks. The type of environment we are facing separates out institutions that will be successful. We have to be determined to make appropriate and institution enhancing changes. Higher ed is not going to get any easier and we must adapt in ways that strengthen Truman.