We’ll have a new president Tuesday!

Yes indeed, this whole thing is finally coming to a close.

After a yearlong search, the UM System will name its 23rd president tomorrow and we still have no idea who it is.

The last presidential search was spoiled before an announcement was made when two potential candidates (U.S. Rep Kenny Hulshov, and then New Jersey businessman Terry Sutter) were publicly considered, but board Chairman Warren Erdman has made damn sure that won’t happen again this time.

Last Friday, Janese Silvey of the Columbia Daily Tribune checked into a blog reporting that University of Florida president Bernie Machen was the board’s finalist, but Silvey was able to shoot that down with a call with new curator Craig Van Matre.

Since then, there haven’t really been any good, constructive rumors (that I’ve heard). So it seems we won’t know the president until the board announces one, just the way Erdman designed it.

As always (of course I wouldn’t miss the big finale!) I’ll be at the announcement live tweeting from @zach_murdock and @CoMissourian. For the most comprehensive coverage of the new president, check out columbiamisourian.com for articles and check back here for more behind-the-scenes and analysis.

A quick, semi-speculative presidential search analysis

I’ve had a few gut feelings about the presidential search in the last week or so. As a matter of logistics and being prepared to break the story, I’m stuck speculating (we have been all semester, I’m looking at you SEC…) about will happen next. Just what will those darn curators do now?

For months the search has been veiled in this secretive, elaborate web of public notices and closed meetings. We know virtually nothing about any candidates or their qualifications — not even very good rumors — and up until now we’ve never had any idea when a new president might be announced.

But suddenly, I can see the light.

The Board of Curators has passed a list of an undisclosed (surprise) number of finalists to an advisory committee made up of representatives from all walks of academic life at all four UM System campuses.

That’s all fine and dandy, but what that means for us [reporters, the media, et al] is that now that the list of finalists is out and about, there is in fact a timeline for an announcement.

It may be subtle and certainly unintentional, but there are 20 members on the advisory committee. That means there’s upwards of 30+ people (including the curators and involved UM System admins) who know the remaining candidates — and likely know who the front-runner is — spread across the state.

Of course they’re all bound to secrecy, but the curators must understand that the longer they wait with this many people in the know, the higher the risk that one person drops one clue that just happens to make sense to the one reporter who hears it who is able to connect it and figure out the candidate. No matter how far-fetched, it could happen. And the curators have taken such care to be so secret, it would seem there’s no way they’d allow that much risk this late in the game.

I’ve been embedded in this story since the beginning of this semester. So when board Chairman Warren Erdman tells me that the curators will receive the advisory committee’s report Thursday afternoon, I understand that the curators will have two executive sessions (those are the closed-door, private meetings) to discuss the matters at their regularly scheduled meetings this week — all before the normally scheduled press conference Friday morning.

Read for yourself part of the email exchange I had with UM Spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead this afternoon. Sometimes the raw answers and context can be more telling than just the parts that make it into my story.

I don’t know about the other news outlets, but I’m letting my colleagues at the Missourian know they’re all on call Friday morning — because I think we’re going to have a new UM System president before this week is out.

I’ll be keeping things updated on my Twitter, @zach_murdock, following Tuesday’s advisory committee meeting and all day Thursday and Friday when the board meets in full at UMSL. Stay tuned to Twitter and columbiamissourian.com for the latest in UM System president news.

Are we spending our time correctly?

Ibuprofen retailers across the Columbia metro area are breathing a sigh of relief after a convoluted performance funding proposal forced all involved to make a run on headache relief medication the past six weeks.

Credit to graphics gal Rachel Rice at the Columbia Missourian for putting together this visual.

But all is calm now, as it seems that the train that left the station weeks ago is well out of sight now — the performance measures faculty members hotly debated for several weeks made it through Wednesday’s general faculty meeting without a scratch.

Faculty seemed pretty apathetic to performance funding in way that had to be expected, I guess, after the bleak warning MU Budget Director Tim Rooney issued before the presentation of the performance measures.

Missourian columnist (and former executive editor) George Kennedy said it best when he said, “Tim didn’t hesistate to wipe the smiles off our faces.” Rooney briefly, matter-of-fact-ly explained we definitely won’t be getting any new funding next year — in fact, he said we could be facing a 5% decrease.

Krawitz went one step farther, claiming we shouldn’t expect new funding the year after, either — or the year after, or the year after, or the year after.

And since performance funding measures would only apply to new funding, Krawitz urged faculty not to fear if Mizzou isn’t adequately represented by the proposed measures because they’ll never get used without new funding.

I tried to encapsulate that in my most recent article about the model:

Laughter rattled through Chamber Auditorium in the MU Student Center as Nikki Krawitz, University of Missouri System vice president for finance and administration, answered one short but important question about the funding model.

The question: Does this make any difference whatsoever?

“The short answer?” Krawitz said as laughter subsided. “No.”

Not to discredit the importance of the discussion about performance funding measures — or the hard work Krawitz, her task force, COPHE and college administrators across the state have done — but if we really can’t expect new funding to be used with the performance measures, did we all just waste our time?

It’s a silly hypothetical question but, how much money could we have raised if every minute we had talked about performance funding over the last year was put into fundraising efforts? And though that question oversimplifies the issue, it gets to the heart of it — at what point could (should?) we have decided to ditch performance funding, knowing it would be moot with the funding crisis we’ve got now?

Could the UM System have prioritized differently after abandoning performance funding? Focused on more pertinent issues?

After following the model this fall and getting to sit down and talk with Krawitz about the ins-and-outs of the idea — including the grim funding outlook — it just seems to me like she had, and still has, plenty more viable and important things to work on for this university.

So why waste her time on an under-funded, disliked, already twice-failed performance funding idea?

Centralia Feature

If you take the time to read anything today, please sit down and read through everything that’s been done about Centralia in the Columbia Missourian this week.

It’s a fantastic text piece with good mutlimedia and photos, and it was put together by a wonderful reporter/colleague of mine, Elizabeth Pearl.

In the piece she writes:

Centralia residents have set out to prove that modern life is not incongruent with community values, that they can grow like other cities in Boone County without becoming them — fully modernized, ignoring history or losing that family atmosphere that causes people to wave to strangers on the street.

Seriously, give it a good, hard read. It’s a really well written piece by one of — if not the best writers in our class right now.

See performance funding for yourself

With all the talk I’ve been doing about performance-based funding, I figured it was time to pony up and actually break it down for those who don’t have the (distinct) pleasure of having all this information circulating in their heads.

Here’s a basic breakdown of how the model might look if implemented the way it’s designed now.

Key word: might.

A lot of the details still have yet to be worked out and I think the graphic and story reflect that with a certain amount of ambiguity.

Faculty have the chance to discuss this issue further at this afternoon’s general faculty meeting before the model moves right along to the Coordinating Board of Higher Education for approval in December.

Credit to graphics gal Rachel Rice at the Columbia Missourian for putting together this visual.

Making a funding model visual

What is performance funding? What does it mean for the university? What does it mean for the quality of public higher education throughout the state? How many hundreds of questions could you come up with when you start to get down into the details of a performance funding model?

It’s complicated, OK. And for the record, performance can most accurately be summed up in the following (Hint: read aloud as quickly as possible):

“At the August (Higher Education) Summit, the Governor suggested a performance funding system under which any state appropriations above the previous year’s base level would be allocated to each university based upon that university’s performance on five measures. Four of the measures would be common to all COPHE institutions and one measure would be independently selected by each university.”

Duh. I mean, what did you think it would be?

Unfortunately, it seems that the members of MU’s Faculty Council may be in the same boat. At their meeting last week, council members grilled UM System VP Nikki Krawitz about details of the plan and had some harsh words for the model’s seemingly total disregard of several major facets of MU’s academic mission. (On that note, Krawitz admitted the model is tailored toward the Gov.’s goal of increasing folks with degrees, not the one land-grant, research institution in the state.)

My understanding was that Krawitz had presented the model to the council members with the intent of fielding suggestions, not defending the model against heavy criticism.

In the heat of it, Krawitz essentially said the train is leaving the station, and MU is on board whether we like it or not.

We have a choice: we can either make suggestions about measures that we can use, or we can talk about all the reasons we can’t use measures. But if we want funding, I’m telling you, you better come up with some measures.

After the fact it occurred to me that in the hour and a half Faculty Council meeting, council members had only provided a handful of suggestions and the frustration was palpable. Which got me thinking: if a group of the most informed, intelligent faculty members still had burning questions and concerns after an hour and a half — how will a full general faculty meeting (where all faculty are invited to voice their opinion) fare?

My hunch is that without more clarity, the meeting might go down much like the last council meeting. So it begs the question, instead of my sloppy, confusing narrative about the funding model is there a way we can visually walk people through how the model will work?

The idea is simply to make it simple. Definitions of terms. Context regarding how the performance model will not affect core funding, only additional allocations to public institutions. An equation to show what information the model considers and how it spits out a number based on a school’s performance in those categories.

It’s still a work in progress, but it’s an idea I’d like to see through before next Wednesday’s general faculty meeting. And the Missourian has an obligation to try to provide some clarity on such a complex issue, especially after hearing the questions and concerns raised at last week’s council meeting.

Developing stories

It seems that nearly everything I’m working on is a developing story this week.

Not in any kind of conclusive way either — it looks like nearly all of the subjects I’ve been covering are going to keep on rolling right through November.

Here’s a basic breakdown of the issues I’m following (including links to my most recent work on each):

  • The UM System presidential search: curators have met in closed session twice in the past two weeks, once in Kansas City and again St. Louis. Both meetings were held behind closed doors, and the curators will meet in executive session again Thursday night via teleconference. UM spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead confirmed curators met with candidates in St. Louis and that the search committee hopes to have a small group of finalists in the next few weeks.
  • Performance funding: MU Faculty Council will again discuss performance funding models and their implications for MU at Thursday’s meeting. Council members have been critical of a proposed performance-based funding model and it seems Nikki Krawitz hopes to quell their fears and talk about the specifics of the plan before making her presentation of the model at the fall semester general faculty meeting Nov. 16.
  • Retirement plan and academic freedom: these two get lumped together because they’re two developing issues that have had some serious chatter. The Board of Curators recently approved a new retirement plan, but there’s still lots of work to be done and I hope to stay on top of it as I become an advanced reporter this spring. The proposed academic freedom policy is a hotly debated issue and MU’s Faculty Council butted heads on whether it goes too far or not far enough — and the debate is far from over.
  • SEC and academics: this is a good story I have up my sleeve, but is still in its infancy. I won’t talk about the details here, but with the help of Jacqui Banaszynski, I think I’ve got a strong footing to get this story rolling to quickly follow up on the *almost-certainly* pending MU/SEC announcement.

As things continue to develop I’ll try to keep things updated on the blog. As I receive information, I do my best to make it available on my personal Twitter, @zach_murdock, (and it will often make the @CoMissourian Twitter feed too) so follow along on Twitter for the latest news and highlights.