Shining a light on financial crisis
For those confused by the dueling Missouri Western narratives given by the past president and the here-for-a-year president, here are some key facts, some of which were reported by my students when I advised The Griffon News:
1) End-of-year financial statements show a combined deficit spending of $14.5 million from FY 2014-2019, including overspending by $3.5 million in FY 2019 alone.
2) Full-time equivalent enrollment (not headcount, which doesn’t reflect credit hours/tuition revenue) fell from 4,830 students in the fall of 2011 to 3,955 in the fall of 2019, an 18% drop. Conversely, the number of faculty rose from 188 to 208 (roughly 10%) and administrators from 23 to 30 (roughly 30%) during that 2011-2019 time frame. Given the six years of consecutive deficit spending and the growth of personnel in a time of declining enrollment, significant cuts had to be made.
To be clear: I take serious issue with the method and the depth, breadth and areas that the current administration has cut. Hiring a new $160,000 chief of staff position was a terrible financial and PR move when layoffs were imminent. But, make no mistake that this current administration made cuts because of the previous administration’s unwillingness to make necessary adjustments and a Board of Governors that abdicated its fiduciary and oversight responsibilities.
Finally: As both presidents acknowledged, the state’s defunding of higher education is a major culprit in Missouri Western’s financial struggles. In 2003, MWSU received $19.7 million from the state — more than it received this past fiscal year. Had the funding from Jefferson City kept pace with inflation since 2003, MWSU would be receiving nearly $8 million more from the state — and it would not have needed to lay off top-notch faculty and staff.
Board has a chance to get it right
As the MWSU Board of Governors sowed by hiring Matt Wilson, so they reaped. It boggles one’s mind when board members, and Wilson himself, pretend they had no idea of budget alarms. The campus newspaper ran a front-page story April 10, 2019, with the headline “11 Million in the Red.” They’d published an earlier alarm Nov. 3, 2016.
That was when the board awarded Dr. Robert Vartabedian a contract extension and pay raise to quell media rumors of a no-confidence vote by faculty and staff. For board members to claim ignorance of the budget is an admission that undergrad journalists knew more about the budget than board members. It’s equally hard to believe Matt missed the $11 million headline given that on March 25 he’d submitted a lengthy self-introduction. Too many smart people are playing dumb.
Another major flaw is that the board accepted all its news from one source — the administration. To his credit, Lee Tieman granted me an hour in person a week ago, the first time any board member has sat down to hear from those of us who’ve dedicated our professional lives to students. The board needs to add a faculty seat.
Well-meaning citizens on the outside must understand that cutting positions did not have to mean cutting programs. I’ve emailed our interim president in hopes of opening a dialogue to revisit majors and minors and to restore community trust. So far, no reply.
Before our board engages in a costly presidential search, they need to contact the other two finalists from our last search: JuliAnn Mazachek and Terisa Riley. Mazachek, especially, understands schools our size and has showed loyalty and staying power in many leadership roles at Washburn. If one of these candidates is willing to lead us, she deserves the opportunity.