Managing down

In my new gig at the Columbia Missourian, there’s plenty to learn.

Despite my semester as a copy editor, I’m getting a whole new crash course in giving articles a first edit as an assistant city editor. What questions do I need to ask the reporter and what’s the priority for getting through an evening filled with copy? How do I edit a crime brief without convicting a suspect with sloppy sentences?

On top of it all, I’m having to learn a totally new way of managing all the new responsibilities.

Of course, over two semesters reporting from this newsroom I’ve had to learn a few things about handling more than myself.

My editor, Elizabeth Brixey, calls it “managing up.” Jacqui Banaszynski talks about the same thing in an essay and calls the practice “the care and feeding” of editors and writers.

Managing up is tough and it takes a keen understanding of how to work with your editor to communicate clearly and effectively, especially when the piece your managing is a massive project or vital breaking news.

But what I’ve found I’m struggling with most is keeping up with everyone on our education team. “Managing down,” as it were, is a whole different beast entirely.

It’s a challenge to stay on top of my responsibilities and helping Liz manage an education team of 20 reporters means dealing with a lot of different writing styles, personalities and levels of confidence. With everyone so eager to get published (which is a fantastic thing, by the way), I’m having to find all new ways to manage my time in and out of the newsroom.

There are still times when I have to manage up to Liz or when I’m on my general assignment editing shift with Katherine Reed, but I’m comfortable with that. It’s learning to manage down that’s proven a tough transition for me — I feel like I’ve just learned how best to manage myself, let alone 20 others.

But that’s what makes this such valuable experience and I’m excited to see what our team can produce this fall.

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ASUM Budget Graphic

ASUM put together a cool timeline graphic explaining how the budget got to where it’s at now. Plus there’s a bunch of good facts, so read their post and make yourself smarter.

Where we’re at now

I read a really interesting article from the Chronicle of Higher Education today about the misconception that faculty salaries are driving up the cost of a college degree.

Here’s a quick excerpt of the most compelling piece of the story:

“The contrast is starkest at public institutions, where tuition and fees have increased over the past decade by 72 percent when accounting for inflation, largely in response to declines in state support. During that same time, the salaries of public-college professors, when adjusted for inflation, rose by less than 1 percent at doctoral and baccalaureate institutions and fell by more than 5 percent at master’s universities.”

All this just days after our own UM System administrators discussed the prospect of raising faculty salaries at last week’s Board of Curators meetings at Missouri S&T.

With the state funding roller coaster the system has been riding for the past few months, the future of any salary increases is still up in the air. UM has been pretty tight-lipped about its plan if it doesn’t get any funding cuts but discussed an average increase of 1.75 percent to faculty salaries across the four system campuses.

Of course, that’s still subject to change the system won’t be able to make any real decisions until it knows exactly how much money it will be getting from the state.

A Senate budget will likely be voted out of committee this week and will likely hit the Senate floor next week, when it would be open for debate. Last week the committee agreed with the House to keep stable funding for higher education, among other things, and the UM system’s VP of government relations Steve Knorr seemed optimistic at the meetings in Rolla that a budget without cuts to higher education would be sent to the governor.

Of course, this is potentially the slowest developing story I’ve ever worked on and there will continue to be updates. I’ve struggled to keep posting on this blog regularly, but I’m always spewing facts, figures and insights  — if you can call them that — on Twitter at @zach_murdock.

Budget Debate

I’m tweeting throughout the afternoon with some updates from the debate going on in the Missouri House today. Representatives are discussing amendments to a budget proposed by Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, among other bills.

From the documents I’ve seen online, the most relevant amendment to my UM System coverage is an amendment to the system’s $360 million in proposed state support (section 3.210). If approved, the amendment would knock about $4 million off that state funding.

Follow me on Twitter for more info as it becomes available.

Hooray Jefferson City!

**This post was originally published on one of my class blogs.**

*UPDATE: An earlier version of this post was too generous in estimating Phil’s weight. After speaking with him Friday afternoon, I’ve updated his weight to more accurately — but still pretty generously — identify my friend’s dimensions.*

I had a wardrobe malfunction Tuesday morning.

On Monday night I was stuck scrambling trying to figure what I was going to need in Jefferson City for Tuesday morning’s House Higher Education Committee meeting.

I was already a bit nervous because I’ve never done any reporting at the Capitol before, and then it occurred to me: my closet ≠ Capitol dress code.

So after an hour-long panic attack, I was able to find my one nice tie — that I wouldn’t have brought to Columbia had my mom not hassled me about it in August — and sent out a series of messages to men of all shapes and sizes.

I have one broadcast friend with whom I share such a likeness we could pass for each other’s Hollywood stunt doubles, but his jackets were at the dry cleaners. Then a sampling of his KOMU colleagues left me just as jacket-less as I was an hour earlier.

After a few minutes of frantic pacing, I had a stroke of genius. I remembered an old friend from high school who definitely had a navy blue blazer, definitely wouldn’t need it on a Tuesday morning and was definitely home on Monday night to cough it up.

It was a lock. A text message and phone call later, I was en route to the savior jacket.

When Phil opened the door after two knocks, his six-foot-two, 220-pound frame filled the doorway.

With too-big jacket in tow, I retreated back to my bedroom to plot my reporting for the morning and figure out how I’d manage to pull off this wardrobe.

On Tuesday morning, I set out for my first trip to the Capitol and in true Missouri form, the weather was gorgeous. So gorgeous, in fact, that one wouldn’t even want to wear a jacket because it would be too hot.

To make something out of nothing — as all good reporters have had to do at some point — I draped the too-big jacket over my arm as a prop. I never once put it on, but looked as though I had just taken it off for the meeting the entire time I was there.

The whole ordeal reminded me of this Red Stripe commercial, though I’m not sure why.

Hooray Jefferson City!

What’s a guy gotta do?

**Editors note: I originally published this post on our Advanced Reporting class blog.**

Why don’t people care about tuition increases? Is it something we did? Is it something we said?

Because I’m always a little hurt when the things we’re writing about for higher education aren’t consistently on the most read list, and you never seem to hear Joy praising the analytics of the most popular “strategic financial planning and assumptions” article.

Tom told you higher education is the company in the company town. George Kennedy told you that MU is a $2 billion business and that MU’s weekly payroll is around $16 million. Hell, in Columbia, you can’t spit without hitting something funded directly (or indirectly) by higher education.

So tell me, what do we need to do get people’s attention? How do we convince people of the importance of every Board of Curators decision?

We write articles, we tweet, we blog, we make graphics, we share, we engage — I even wrote an opinion piece in December, after the announcement of the new president. At this point, I’m not sure what we haven’t tried.

But I think I know what makes the difference: I see the connection from curator to student in every decision the board makes.

For people to care, they need to see what I see. To do that I think we need to come up with something new — something very different — to get people’s attention.

But I just haven’t quite figured out what that is.

The Chronicle and how state funding is changing

This morning I spotted a very interesting read from the Chronicle of Higher Education about performance-based funding’s growing popularity among legislatures around the country.

The idea is that funding schools based on their performance in particular measures (think graduation rates, professional certificates awarded, credit hours completed, etc.) would reward the most efficient schools while squeezing the most out of every education-allocated state dollar during tough economic times.

Last fall, Missouri adopted performance measures and I covered them pretty thoroughly (and skeptically) in my reporting.

But the end of the Chronicle’s article hits on an important point that I’ve heard here in Missouri. When I spoke with UM System admin Nikki Krawitz last fall, she pointed out that the higher ed relationship goes both ways — while colleges and universities have to do more with less, the state bears plenty of responsibility to get those schools the resources they need.

Over the long term, that trend toward regulatory freedom will only increase, Mr. Reindl says, especially as the states’ shares of college budgets gets smaller. “Campuses,” he says, “are coming to lawmakers saying, If you are not going to give us as much money, should you really have the same amount of control?”

In December, UM Chancellors Leo Morton and Brady Deaton told the Board of Curators they’re under pressure from donors who feel they’re money is just supplementing state support. From my article about the December board meeting:

Deaton said several donors he has spoken with have said they will not continue to give to MU if state support keeps dwindling, specifically because they don’t want their money filling a funding gap created by the state.

Now, Missouri ranks 45 out of 50 in state funding per capita in higher education so it’s fair to say that the colleges and universities have been doing more with not just less, but nearly the least.

So without state support, what’s the future model of higher education for Missouri colleges, including the UM System? That’s, very literally, the multi-million dollar question.

The sorry state of state funding

Here’s what may be the most important excerpt from interim system president Steve Owen’s response to Gov. Jay Nixon’s proposed cuts to Missouri higher education:

“It is fair to ask how long we can continue to do more with less. After a decade of reductions in state support and implementation of operational efficiencies, we are near the point where either the level of funding will have to increase or the scope and quality of services will have to decrease.”

As proposed, the fiscal year 2013 budget would cut $89 million from four-year Missouri colleges and universities, including $55 million in cuts to the UM System budget.

This graphic shows the frightening decline of state support over the last decade and couple this with record enrollments for every year shown in the graphic. A $55 million reduction in funding for the UM System, a 13.7 percent decrease from fiscal year 2012’s gross appropriations. (Graphic credit to Nicole Thompson)

At its December meeting, the Board of Curators discussed a preliminary proposal to raise tuition and course fees the rate of inflation (except at Missouri S&T), but that plan was contingent on a state budget with unchanged appropriations for the system.

When that proposal was discussed in December, the system was already preparing to cover a $78 million gap, and with an additional $55 million to make up it seems highly likely that tuition and course fees will have to go up even more.

The board will discuss and vote on tuition increases at their next meeting, Feb. 2-3 at UMKC.

I hope to have more information over the next two weeks and I’ll be there in person to cover the tuition discussion in Kansas City.

For the latest on the system’s budget gap and what it means for tuition, course fees, deferred maintenance and employee salaries and benefits, stay tuned here, keep an eye on my Twitter, @zach_murdock, and check out columbiamissourian.com.