The University of Missouri is planning for unit budget cuts of up to 15 percent and top administrators are taking a 10 percent pay cut as the four-campus system looks for ways to cut costs during the coronavirus pandemic.


The announcement of possible layoffs or unpaid leave, as well as the pay cuts at the top, came just a few hours before UM System president and interim Columbia campus Chancellor Mun Choi addressed a virtual town hall of faculty and staff.


Questions from faculty and staff during the virtual town hall were emailed and read by moderator Emily Spain, an anchor at KOMU.


During the online town hall, he repeated the potential that the University of Missouri System could experience a revenue shortfall of up to $180 million.


"We have already made significant cuts," Choi said, noting frozen salaries and hiring and restrictions on large expenses.


In the next few weeks there would be decisions about further cuts, including possible elimination of programs, layoffs and furloughs, Choi said.


"I can promise you we’ll be direct, transparent and accountable," Choi said.


The 10 percent pay cut will apply to Choi, the three other chancellors, deans and cabinet-level officers. The cuts will be in place at least until July 31.


Choi’s official annual salary is $530,000 per year, or $44,166 per month. The chancellors of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Mauli Agrawal, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Kristin Sobolik and the Missouri University of Science and Technology, Mohammad Dehghani, receive base salaries of $400,000 per year, or $33,333 per month.


The savings will total $14,415 per month for the four top leaders.


"Throughout our history, our universities have been known for resilience and our commitment to the people of Missouri," Choi said in a news release. "While our universities are continuing to do what they have done for generations - serving critical needs and providing the highest quality education for our students - we also must plan for severe financial challenges. It is clear that our major sources of funding will remain under stress for some time to come."


MU spokesman Christian Basi on Tuesday said letters have been sent to others on the campuses asking them to take the same voluntary pay cut, but they are being given a few weeks to make the decision, so total savings from the action won’t be available until those come in.


The university suspended in-person instruction in mid-March on all four campuses. It has been delivering education online since that date and plans to continue to do so through the summer.


Students will be back on campus in the fall, Choi said.


"We do expect to be open fully in the fall," he said.


Personnel decisions will be made with the utmost respect for the individuals involved, said Rhonda Gibler, MU vice chancellor for finance.


"There are lots of reasons to be concerned," Gibler said. "There are lots of pressures on our financial situation. We are going to have to make some difficult decisions. I expect there are likely to be layoffs."


Decisions about financial cuts have been highly collaborative "from the get-go," said Provost Latha Ramchand, adding that they would continue that way. She would be foolish to guarantee the highest paid individuals would see the deepest cuts.


"Our decisions will not satisfy everyone," Ramchand said.


A question was submitted to Choi about pursuing the nearly $221 million NextGen Precision Health Institute during the economic downturn.


"The AAU has a strong metric for research," Choi said, referring to the Association of American Universities, of which MU is a member. "It’s very important for us to continue with that type of investment. That commitment is critical. It’s a project that will define the university for many years. This is a very important project. It’s the first research building on campus in 17 years."


Gary Ward, MU vice chancellor of operations, said with the campus vacant, it has been fully sanitized, but Monday would begin a deep cleaning of all buildings and spaces.


A return to large events at Mizzou arena and Tiger Stadium would depend on guidance from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention, Ward said. There will be an opportunity for employees to return to campus at some point to retrieve items they left in their offices.


"We’ve got to be very careful we don’t have a flood of people coming back at the same time," Ward said.


Choi, Ramchand and others praised employees for their flexibility and agility. When in-person classes were suspended on March 11, Ramchand said 7,400 courses were moved to fully online instruction.


"You made it happen," Ramchand said.


Choi said university leadership has kept the welfare of employees in mind with every decision.


"It is my great hope we come out of this stronger, but we are going to come out of it different," Choi said.


A virtual town hall with MU leadership is scheduled for the community and alumni is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday. They will address questions of students and families in virtual town hall at 3 p.m. next Wednesday. They can all be accessed at chancellor.missouri.edu/virtual-town-hall/.


rmckinney@columbiatribune.com


573-815-1719


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