Missouri panel calls for big changes on campus with regards to tuition

ST. LOUIS • Missouri would no longer impose a cap on rising college tuition under a set of legislative recommendations released Thursday that would also redefine how University of Missouri System students are charged for their education.

The University of Missouri System Review Commission was created in the wake of upheaval at the university last year that toppled top leadership. The panel was set up to essentially audit the system and provide recommendations to the Legislature and the university Board of Curators.

The committee — chaired by Jeanne Sinquefield, a member of the Columbia campus’ steering committee and frequent Mizzou donor — focused the analysis and recommendations on four areas: governance and accountability; workforce readiness; diversity and Title IX; and research, extension and online education.

The report largely sticks to those areas, offering a host of directives addressing issues such as a perceived lack of transparency in the university system’s governance.

One of the more stark recommendations was directed toward the Legislature.

It calls on lawmakers to overhaul a 2007 law that prohibits all state schools from raising tuition costs more than the Consumer Price Index each year. The index value hovered around 1.8 percent since 2008, giving universities little wiggle room.

If changed, this would affect all state universities.

Gary Forsee, former University of Missouri System president and vice chair of the commission, calls it a push for local control. Governing boards of each university are appointed to be financial stewards, and yet the law forbids them from making these decisions.

“Let the boards control that, and if a campus gets out of line, the students and parents will let them know,” Forsee told the Post-Dispatch.

The task force also strongly recommends a new approach to the concept of tuition.

Under the recommendation, the four system schools would shift to differential tuition, meaning that the price tag of a student’s tuition would be based on the field of study. For example, an engineering student, who is more expensive to educate, would pay more than an English major.

The task force also suggests the Legislature switch to a two-year state funding cycle, rather than annual, to allow leaders to better plan ahead.

The recommendations are largely not new. Some are already being discussed by the curators or university administrators, and at least one legislative recommendation surfaced in a state audit during the fall.

Missouri House and Senate leaders were the first to receive a copy of the report as they were the ones to convene the panel.

A Missouri House spokesman said House Speaker Todd Richardson was expected to release a statement on the report after he reviewed it.

Greater transparency

Among the recommendations for the university is a review of the Collected Rules and Regulations, the governing rules for all four system campuses.

These rules dictate everything from the handling of sexual harassment and discrimination cases under the federal Title IX, to the procedures for hiring, firing and tenure.

Many legislators took a keen interest in such procedures in the wake of a controversy surrounding Melissa Click, a former assistant professor at Mizzou.

Click attracted national attention when she helped remove a student journalist from the scene of protests at Mizzou in November 2015. The protests, triggered by reports of racist incidents, led the system president and the campus chancellor to step down.

Some lawmakers immediately called for Click to be fired, a step that the curators eventually voted to take.

Forsee said it was time the Collected Rules and Regulations were reviewed and updated regardless, calling some of the rules antiquated.

In a statement, Board of Curator chairman Maurice Graham, a lawyer from St. Louis , said the idea of reviewing the Collected Rules was already a discussion point for the board. He called it “a process that will involve faculty and administration participation.”

The task force calls for curators to wrap up the review and schedule of proposed changes for the Legislature by the end of 2017.

A theme of recommendations for the university system and campus leaders is greater transparency and accountability to the public.

In one section, the task force calls for an accountability scorecard to be in place by January 2018. Under it, campuses would be measured by their top missions: teaching, research and economic development. In another section, the task force laments the difficulty of accessing student, faculty and staff diversity data.

David Steelman, a curator from Rolla, said the report acted as a reminder that the university “has an obligation for transparency that perhaps hasn’t been placed high enough as a priority.”

“I, as a curator, have even found it very frustrating to learn something from the press first, rather than (within the system),” Steelman said. But he’s sure that change is forthcoming.

“I’m confident this will change with people like (Graham), (incoming system president) Mun Choi and Gov.-elect Eric Greitens, who will stress the need for transparency with future board appointees,” he said.

Greitens can nominate as many as five of the nine curators when he takes office next month, through vacancies from terms expiring and those members who haven’t been confirmed by the Senate.

“If we as an institution can make some of these changes, and gain control of our own destiny, I think you’ll find the University of Missouri System will reach unprecedented heights,” Steelman said.

More efficiency

The task force had a slew of other recommendations, ranging from compiling and comparing data on institutional performance to strategies on expanding research opportunities.

In addition to system leaders, the task force met on each of the four campuses and talked with those chancellors. In the process, the group identified a few areas where the University of Missouri System could and should better coordinate the four campuses’ handling of services, such as human resources and information technology.

“We were reinforced by the role the system plays to make sure state money is used wisely, and the idea that the role of the system is to support the campuses, not the other way around,” Forsee said.

Other task force members include former gubernatorial candidate and St. Louis area businessman Dave Spence, former Mizzou research administrator Rob Duncan, conservative radio show host Renee Hulshof, Missouri Soybean Association board member Neal Bredehoeft, Maryville University professor Pam Washington and Kansas City lawyer Michael Williams.

The task force was initially given $900,000 for travel and other operational costs, but those funds were later withheld by Gov. Jay Nixon. According to the report, the lack of funds limited the depth in which the committee was able to operate during the last seven months.