Like most schools in the region, Murray State University had a wintry start to the Spring semester, but things are kicking into gear despite delays. On Sounds Good, Matt Markgraf speaks with MSU President Dr. Bob Davies about some of those efforts, along with the university's connection to Marshall County High School in the wake of a recent tragic shooting, what Governor Matt Bevin's proposed budget cuts could mean for the university and strategic plan and enrollment efforts.
(Note: This conversation was recorded on Monday and aired Thursday on Sounds Good.)
Davies began the conversation commending faculty for some recent publications:
- James Humphreys: Interpreting American History: The New South
- Kevin Revell: Introductory Chemistry
- Rusty Jones: Satire in the Elizabethan Era: An Activistic Art
- He also noted Maribeth Crawford performing this month at Carnegie Hall.
Marshall County High School Shooting
Murray State and MCHS have a close connection, Davies said, as a high percentage of teachers and administrators, including the new principal, are alumni. He also said there are seven student teachers currently at the school. He had been in correspondence with them and commended their passion, compassion and empathy. They remain committed to education, he said, and in some cases the shooting has further motivated such commitment. He also said it's touching to see the outpouring of support to the Marshall County community from Murray State professors and staff.
Preventing School Shootings
What do do about shootings has been a matter of passionate national debate over gun laws and mental and family health services. Governor Matt Bevin has called for prayer and has argued that gun violence is a cultural problem. Since the shooting in Marshall County, lawmakers in Frankfort have debated how or whether such incidents can be prevented in the future through legislative action.
One such proposal was to arm teachers and staff with guns. Davies said he hopes it doesn't come to that. He said there are things that can be done: "having that sense of community from the get go and being aware of other individuals and what they're going through. Perpetuating acts of kindness. Perpetuating emotions of empathy. Being aware of what your fellow student, classmate, peer, etcetera are going through and always be willing to be there and to reach out. Is that going to stop all of these things? No. But I think we need to look in between these incidents and in between these horrific acts, what can we do to be kind, to be empathetic, be compassionate?" He said to have compassion, empathy and act in a way that "we are proud of when we're meeting our own maker."
Spring Semester Under Way
The semester is back into gear despite delays due to a winter snow storm. Davies said decisions whether to close the university due to weather often begin with "how do we make sure we are open?" But, ultimately, safety of the campus community is 'paramount' in the decision to open or close. Particularly at the beginning of a semester, staff was operating 'behind the scenes' to ensure deadlines for grants and other things weren't missed and that facilities remained in good shape.
One of the activities postponed was the Martin Luther King Jr. Day events coordinated by the multicultural center. The events have been rescheduled for Friday (march and vigil) and Saturday.
Davies also outlined the strategic initiatives plan and some upcoming listening sessions. More about the plan here.
What Governor's Proposed Budget Could Mean for Murray State
Governor Matt Bevin recently delivered his budget address that included a proposal to cut 6.25% from the state budget and the elimination of 70 programs.
Davies said now that the proposal is out there, it's time for conversation. The 6.25% of state allocated cuts, he said, represents $2.8 million to Murray State. Of the programs being cut, state mandated programs, some will receive zero funding and others (not on the list of 70) will see reductions. There are many other mandated programs that receive significant reductions in their budget, Davies said.
"The Breathitt Veterinary Center for Murray State is our single mandated program. And it did receive a 50 percent budget reduction, which equates to $1.2 million," he said. So as a starting point in the conversation, Davies said, the university is looking at a reduction of 8.71% (when combining the $2.8 million plus the $1.2 million).
Increased pension obligation for the next biennium also needs to be put into consideration, he said, which is on the annual basis of $4.8 million. "So in total we're up to about $7.5 million dollars or thereabouts in terms of a total budget reallocation through this process. That brings obviously a lot of stress in terms of how we are able to achieve this," he said. A university leadership planning and resource committee has been established to address the issue.
Davies said the university's goals in legislative efforts include assistance in pension costs relief, looking to restore funding to the Breathitt Veterinary Center and addressing infrastructure needs (i.e. electrical grid, HVAC, building structures). The price for addressing infrastructure, Davies said, is $32 million for the next biennium.
"And of course we're working to minimize the reduction in the investment of higher education as a reflection of the fact that it is an investment and there is a very strong return on that investment that is realized by our communities and by our state," he said.
He said he admire legislators for taking on the pension crisis. "We will all have to participate in some sort of reduction. We're not looking to say that we should not be reduced. But we also know that to achieve our mission of expanding the economic civic and cultural advancements that this will require sustained investment from all sources."
Davies said that the number of admitted students is higher now than at this time last year, which is a good starting point, he said, but added that there's a lot of time between now and next fall when those students come to campus. The number of admitted students and 'aggressive' strategies are ‘paying great dividends.’ Davies said the number of freshmen still enrolled from the fall to this spring is more than 90 percent, up about 1.5% from last year. The number of other classes returning is also up. Bringing the freshmen class to 1,600 remains a goal.
“We've got great momentum we've got great opportunities. We need to continue to focus on on delivering what we pledge which is a very student centered and focused university with excellent teaching and opportunities for students to do research, study abroad, internships and delivered on that promise. I have no doubt in my mind that we'll be successful,” he said.