Buy­out of­fers have pro­fes­sors wor­ried

The Kansas City Star - - Front Page - BY MARÁ ROSE WIL­LIAMS md­[email protected]­star.com

The Univer­sity of Mis­souri Sys­tem has of­fered buy­outs to its most se­nior pro­fes­sors on all four cam­puses, prompt­ing con­cerns from fac­ulty lead­ers that some de­part­ments might end up gut­ted.

El­i­gi­ble fac­ulty in Kansas City, Columbia, Rolla and St. Louis were given no­tice a week ago of “a one-time op­por­tu­nity to re­ceive a lump-sum pay­out” of 1.5 times their an­nual salary, up to $200,000, ef­fec­tive Sept. 1, 2019.

The fac­ulty must be full-time and tenured, older than 62 and have worked in the sys­tem at least five years.

At Miz­zou, that’s 224 fac­ulty mem­bers, 112 at Univer­sity of Mis­souri-Kansas City, 55 at Mis­souri Univer­sity of Science and Tech­nol­ogy in Rolla and 72 at Univer­sity of Mis­souri in St. Louis. The to­tal, 466, in­cludes em­ploy­ees work­ing at the sys­tem level.

In ad­di­tion to sav­ing money, the pro­gram will al­low for more raises and “is a way that we can thank se­nior fac­ulty for their con­tri­bu­tions to the univer­sity,” univer­sity sys­tem spokesman Chris­tian Basi said.

Long­time UMKC his­tory pro­fes­sor Gary Eber­sole, a former fac­ulty se­nate pres­i­dent, said sim­i­lar pro­grams in

the past didn’t al­ways go well.

“This is the third such buy­out in the 23 years I have been at UMKC,” Eber­sole said. “In the last go-round, the en­tire math and statis­tics depart­ment at UMKC took early re­tire­ment, and a few months be­fore the new school year, the univer­sity had to scram­ble to of­fer math and statis­tics cour­ses.”

UMKC of­fi­cials said they searched as far back as 1984 but could not con­firm a time when the math and statis­tics depart­ment was with­out any full-time fac­ulty. They said buy­out of­fers are rare be­cause they are some­what dis­rup­tive. But uni­ver­si­ties will have time to fill work­load needs.

Eber­sole said he re­mem­bers that “the univer­sity ended up hav­ing to hire many of the same fac­ulty back, as well as hir­ing other peo­ple still on the mar­ket late in the aca­demic year. … The prob­lem with this sort of buy­out pro­gram is that it can­not be suc­cess­fully tar­geted.”

Univer­sity of­fi­cials said they aren’t look­ing for any par­tic­u­lar num­ber of fac­ulty to take the of­fer, and there is no limit on the num­ber who could ac­cept it.

Basi said the of­fer is not in­tended to be an ear­lyre­tire­ment plan, but he said new fac­ulty may even­tu­ally be hired. Those de­ci­sions will “de­pend on the tar­get goals of the col­lege or depart­ment,” he said.

In 2014, a sim­i­lar buy­out was of­fered by then-Chan­cel­lor R. Bowen Loftin to Univer­sity of Mis­souri fac­ulty. Loftin said at the time that the of­fer would “al­low the univer­sity the op­por­tu­nity to man­age a chal­leng­ing fi­nan­cial en­vi­ron­ment by pro­vid­ing flex­i­bil­ity for fund­ing new po­si­tions and grant­ing ap­pro­pri­ate salary in­creases.”

MU law pro­fes­sor Ben Tracht­en­berg, a mem­ber of the fac­ulty coun­cil, re­mem­bers that the last buy­out “worked bet­ter in some de­part­ments than in oth­ers.” Some de­part­ments, he said, “got hit hard.” Tracht­en­berg said he re­called talk­ing to fac­ulty from some small de­part­ments in which buy­out of­fers were ac­cepted, but the de­part­ments could not hire re­place­ments, “and that was hard,” he said.

But Tracht­en­berg said, “there is no rea­son that some­thing like this can’t work. Ul­ti­mately it comes down to how the ad­min­is­tra­tion deals with the de­ci­sions that peo­ple make.”

And since the of­fer is vol­un­tary, he said, fac­ulty are not wor­ried that the old­est and more ex­pe­ri­enced fac­ulty are be­ing forced out. In fact, he said, “for some fac­ulty who were al­ready con­sid­er­ing re­tire­ment but might have been con­cerned about the money, this is a nice op­por­tu­nity.”

It also presents an op­por­tu­nity for the cam­puses to add di­ver­sity to their fac­ulty, said Pro­fes­sor Clark Pe­ters, who chairs the MU fac­ulty coun­cil. Also, Pe­ters said, “while we prob­a­bly lose some won­der­fully ex­pe­ri­enced fac­ulty, I think there is a sense that bring­ing in young en­ergy and young schol­ars is a good thing. They can bring a lot to the ta­ble.”

Tracht­en­berg said fac­ulty are wait­ing for more de­tails, such as whether de­part­ments that lose sig­nif­i­cant num­bers in the buy­out will be given money to fill va­can­cies.

“It mat­ters from which bud­get — the col­lege, the depart­ment, the univer­sity or the sys­tem — the lump sum pay­ment comes from,” Tracht­en­berg said. “For ex­am­ple if some­one gets a $200,000 buy­out and the depart­ment has to pay that, it makes it hard to hire some­one else. But if the sys­tem pays, then the depart­ment has money. They don’t have to pay that salary.”

Fac­ulty mem­bers, Tracht­en­berg said, “are not so much pro or con on this, they are just say­ing they’re anx­ious to see how the deals get made.”

Basi said that if needed, the univer­sity could re­hire fac­ulty mem­bers who took the buy­out, and pay them to work part time.

This lat­est cost-sav­ing move fol­lows the di­rec­tion set by Sys­tem Pres­i­dent Mun Choi since he ar­rived in 2016.

Un­der Choi, all four cam­puses have been cut­ting costs in some ar­eas while plug­ging money into other ar­eas, such as launch­ing new stu­dent schol­ar­ship pro­grams.

Last year 307 po­si­tions were elim­i­nated, in­clud­ing some fac­ulty and ad­min­is­tra­tive jobs. At the same time new fac­ulty were hired.

This lat­est sys­tem of­fer is to be paid out no later than Nov. 1, 2019.

Univer­sity of Mis­souri

The Univer­sity of Mis­souri Sys­tem is propos­ing buy­outs for se­nior fac­ulty at four cam­puses.

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