Thursday, January 29

Dr. Speck Speaks!

Good evening blogosphere. Below you will find the responses of Dr. Bruce Speck, President of MSSU in Joplin, that were posed to him by DONNA. I want to make a couple of observations about this blog post: 1) Our goal with this interview was for you the reader to see Dr. Speck's rationale behind his recent decisions, not an attempt by Show-Me Opinions to pretend to be Dateline investigators. 2) This was an email interview, which was just a few brief questions. We are hoping you will give us some feedback as to what follow-up questions you would like to know about. 3) These responses are in no way edited. This is word for word what Dr. Speck typed to us.

The responses are lengthy and I debated about editing it, but I feel that the reader is best served by getting the whole response in context. Our thanks to Dr. Speck for his answers.


DONNA: Is it true that pay cuts for teachers will include being paid by the number of students in the classrooms?

DR. SPECK: There may be several issues that are related to your question, so perhaps it is best if I explain the way we pay our faculty. All full-time faculty teach 12 hours per semester or 24 hours per year. Exceptions include faculty with administrative duties who receive a reduction in their teaching load for performing other duties. A faculty member’s annual salary, by contract, is based on the 24-hour teaching load.

Any particular class has restrictions regarding the number of students for that class. (Technically, we talk about sections of a class because many of our classes, such as English 0101, have multiple sections.) Thus, we generally have a floor for a section because we need a minimum number of students to make the class. That floor is not absolute because the Vice President for Academic Affairs can approve an exception to the floor. We tend to have ceilings for sections for one or two reasons. Either we limit the number of students because only so many seats are available in a classroom or we limit the number of students because we recognize that pedagogically we would not be offering students the best education if a professor had to teach, for example, 100 students in one section to learn how to write.

Historically, Southern has not systematically analyzed issues related to class size. We are engaged in that analysis now, and it should be possible to increase the number of students in many classes by two or three and not violate the fire code requirements for classrooms. By increasing class sizes, we are not changing professors’ pay. Professors will still receive the same salary for which they are contractually due.

However, we have approached Internet courses differently. To jump start Internet courses, Southern enticed professors to teach online by offering them a headcount bonus. For example, an Internet course might have a ceiling of 20 students, but because the physical capacity for an Internet course is not tied to seats in a brick-and-mortar classroom, theoretically, a very large number of students can be enrolled in an Internet course. Thus, we paid professors $25 per credit hour for every student over 20. For a three-hour course, a professor would earn his or her regular pay for the course plus $75 for every student over the 20 ceiling. (When I say “regular pay” it’s important to note that a professor could teach an Internet course as part of his or her 12-hour load per semester or as an overload. Overload pay is calculated at the adjunct rate of $600 per teaching load hour or $1,800 for a 3-credit class, so by teaching an overload, a professor would receive payment beyond the contractual amount for the 12-hour load.) After this semester, we will raise the ceiling for Internet classes and reduce the per-credit-hour bonus.

We are also changing the way we pay summer school, which is not included in any professor’s regular contract. That is, summer school is a separate contract and universities almost universally are not required to offer summer school and professors cannot be required to teach summer school. Again, the summer school rate will decrease and the number of students per class will increase.

We are contemplating across-the-board pay cuts for all university employees that would be based on a percentage of salaries, but we have not made a decision about that yet.

DONNA: Will you personally be taking a pay cut?

If we enact a campus-wide pay cut, my pay will be cut along with everyone else’s.

DONNA: Can you explain to the readers the role of the Board of Governors?

The Board of Governors (BOG) is composed of people who are appointed by the Governor of Missouri. No more than half of the members of the BOG can represent any one political party. The BOG hires the president of the university and provides oversight to the president. The president has the authority to operate the university on a day-by-day basis under the general direction of the BOG. Thus, the BOG, when it passed a $2.6M deficit for this budget year, asked the president to trim $.5M from the deficit. The BOG did not say how to trim the budget. The BOG has the authority to set the rate for tuition and fees, but SB 389 has placed limits on the BOG’s ability to raise tuition. The president is not a voting member of the BOG because he or she reports to the BOG.

DONNA: Please give us your thoughts as to why the child care center and the soccer programs were terminated.

As we have attempted to reduce deficit spending, we have asked units across campus to provide us with ideas about how they could reduce costs. Concerning the child development center, we knew that the university was subsidizing the center by over $100K a year. Thus, after we had received money from parents for their children to attend the center, we had to add $100K to ensure that the center could operate. Last year, I think it was during the summer, Glenn Coltharp told us that one of the employees was leaving for another job, so we took that opportunity to reconsider how to reduce costs. We cut our subsidy to $80K. However, as we began to realize that the economy was declining, we intensified our efforts to reduce costs, and in consultation with Glenn, we determined to close the center. I was told that we were offering an excellent service, but we would price ourselves out of the market if we attempted to increase costs to parents to break even. With about 30 students, it’s easy to see that $80K would be spread heavily to each student’s fees.

Concerning the men’s soccer program, Sallie Beard, our Athletics Director, had begun an analysis of the athletic programs last fall. Eliminating a sport is tricky because we have Title IX requirements regarding gender equity, so Sallie pinpointed several sports that could be eliminated. She recommended men’s soccer because it is a non-conference sport. That is, men’s soccer is not a MIAA conference sport, so we have significant travel expenses to ensure that our men play in places like New Mexico and Colorado. We are not losing money on men’s soccer, so our argument is not that we are saving costs by eliminating the sport. Rather, we are attempting to take our resources and determine where we can use them most effectively. By eliminating soccer, we are cutting the expenses associated with the program (travel, personnel costs, etc.), and we are asking our other sports programs to increase their roster of athletes so that we retain the student numbers in our other sports programs, while eliminating the expenses associated with maintaining the soccer program. I also understood that we will transfer the four student scholarships that were assigned to soccer to our other sports programs. Sallie’s reasoning made sense to Terri, John, and me, so we approved her recommendation.

We are in the process of looking at all aspects of the university, so you can expect to see other changes in our various programs. Our best guess at this point is that we will end the budget year with a $2M deficit. We will have greatly reduced our reserves, our savings account, and we must discontinue deficit spending. That means we have to come up with $2M in recurring savings for the next budget year to balance our budget and discontinue dipping into our reserves to cover normal operating expenses. But the $2M is not the whole story. In addition, if the Governor’s proposal for no increase in tuition and fees is approved by the legislature, we will have to find ways to cover increases in our normal operating costs. And another variable is enrollment. Stable enrollment for fall 2009, given fall 2008 figures, would be helpful. A drop in enrollment would compound our problem. An increase in enrollment would be very helpful. The bigger the increase the more the help. We also do not know whether we will have a withholding for this budget year. If the state withholds 5%, we will need to find approximately $1.25M from this year’s budget.

We have our challenges at Southern, and we are attempting to address them using data and good judgment. Our goal is twofold. One, to continue to offer the best education we can. Two, to preserve as many jobs as possible in a very difficult economy. In reaching those goals, we appreciate any support you can give us.

~~ Please leave comments below!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I observe a loophole that can leave him exempt from a paycut. Don't make it campus-wide. Only going about the paycuts one department at a time would alleviate his need to sink with the ship.