Murray State Regents Approve Balanced Budget for FY 2017-18, Academic Changes, New Provost

Jun 9, 2017

Murray State Board of Regents meeting July 9, 2017
Credit Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Murray State University’s Board of Regents approved on Friday a 'balanced' budget for the next academic year, shifting $7.3 million dollars. They also formally approved Mark Arant as Provost and VP of Academic Affairs, changes to academic programs and numerous other matters. Board Chair Stephen Williams also weighed in on the recent 'scathing' University of Louisville Foundation audit.

Budget for 2017-18

The Board of Regents passed a balanced budget for fiscal year 2017-18. The budget reflects a $7.3 million shift that includes a reduction of revenues, additional expenditures and various savings measures. President Bob Davies says the budget is balanced and is designed to create revenues to offset declining appropriations at the state and federal levels.

The Revenue drop involves a decline in enrollment and student fees. Davies said there is a decrease of around $5.3 million in total revenues. Regent Dan Kemp said the budget does not project an increase in enrollment.

The budget consists of numerous "shifts" to both make up for lost revenue and also streamline processes and services at the administrative levels.

The largest shift comes from $5.7 million in anticipated revenue from the 5% tuition increase (which the board passed in April). Some $1.4 million of this is offset by discounts on tuition. Also, the budget only factors in 3% tuition increase, as Davies explained, the remaining amount ($1.1 million) will go into a contingency that will either address future pension issues or one-time expenditures.  

The budget includes a 1% cost-of-living adjustment for all employees (totaling nearly $564,000) and 'special compensation' to increase salaries for the lowest-level employees. It also factors in faculty promotions and fringe increases. The budget anticipates a $381,000 increase in the amount Murray State has to pay for health insurance. Utility costs, liability and property insurance, property acquisition costs, institutional memberships and legal contingency are also increasing along with an investment in cybersecurity. The university is also investing in a $100,000 hiring pool for more faculty and staff diversity.

Savings include reducing the amount allocated to salary and fringes for the Fair Labor Standards Act ($300,000), vacancy recapture ($600,000) graduate online program sharing needs ($150,000), unemployment insurance, international recruiting (not as high brokerage fees), retirement savings, the implementation of new web fees ($522,000) and wiping an escrow debt of $500,000. Savings of around $1 million also come from an average of 1% cuts from the VP units (many have also reallocated resources to improve efficiencies).

While performance funding is now in effect, it is the first year of the pool. Murray State's contribution is nearly $2.3 million. The university is expecting a reduction in the performance pool contributed by $61,900. The decreased return is not included in the budget.

Regent Chair Stephen Williams praised management for developing a 'responsible' budget. "No one likes tuition increases and no one likes expense cuts but the reality of the days and times in which we live is that there are not enough dollars to go around in the state budgets and the local budgets," he said to WKMS.

Enrollment & Treasury Overviews

VP of Finance and Administrative Services Jackie Dudley said tuition goals are "difficult to reach" due to enrollment, but noted that the summer enrollment numbers are not final. She said it appears the university will come close to meeting net tuition projections and that the numbers would come close to the predicted $4.5 million decline in tuition and fees revenue. "We will be short of the budget," she said, but noted contingencies. Other financial matters are "very much in line" with trends over the past few years and there seemed to be few, if any, surprises overall.

Final Spring 2017 numbers show 'full time equivalent' undergraduate enrollment at 6671 (7023 in SP16) and graduate enrollment at 855 (987 in SP16). Total FTE: 7526 (8010 in SP16). Overall enrollment is down, as predicted, however the new freshmen class is on an upward trend, as the number of transfer students. For example, preliminary numbers for Fall show the number of first-time freshmen acceptances are up 8% (418 students). Executive Director of Enrollment Management Fred Dietz expressed "cautious optimism" for a new freshmen class of 1,600 students.

Regents discussed why students might go elsewhere and the reasons cited included community colleges, proximity to Western Kentucky University and scholarship amounts. Regent Jenny Sewell also mentioned population loss due to fewer people having kids. Regent Walter Bumphus said board rooms across the country are struggling with population decline.

UofL Foundation Audit

Murray State Board of Regents Chair Stephen Williams said the incriminating University of Louisville Foundation audit released on Thursday is “a potent case study” for other boards in Kentucky. The report reveals questionable and excessive secret spending, lavish pay and issues of mismanagement that follows months of donor and media scrutiny. Williams said the findings appear to indicate “a disturbing lack of fiduciary responsibility.”

"That report will generate a lot of discussion across the commonwealth with both public and private universities in terms of fiduciary responsibilities of both board and managements," he said to WKMS.

Williams said he empathizes with the new UofL and Foundation boards and has “high confidence” that they will address the issues. He assured that Murray State's foundation demonstrates an “excellent governance of transparency” with appropriate checks and balances in place.

New Provost and VP of Academic Affairs

(Ysabel Lavitz contributed to this section)

The board formally approved Mark Arant as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs He will also be a tenured professor in the chemistry department. Arant currently serves as Provost at Northeastern State University in Oklahoma, and has held positions at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith and the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Arant assumes his post on July 3rd.

Academic Changes

The board approved a new Master's of Science and Occupational Therapy.

The departments of Modern Languages and Theatre are now the Department of Global Languages and Theatre Arts. Acting Provost Renae Duncan said both departments are relatively small and a recent audit report recommended streamlining. She said that while it seemed "a little bit unusual" at the surface level, the faculty are looking to 'creatively grow' this new department.

The board also voted to 'delete' a few programs. They removed the Master of Science in Nursing. Duncan said this was due to conflicting resources in the Doctorate of Nursing Practice program. The doctoral program is set up so that students upon the completion of a bachelor's degree can now immediately enter the doctoral track. The bachelor's programs in Recreation and Leisure Services were removed and faculty will join the Nonprofit Leadership Studies program, offering students interested in this field to include nonprofit skills. The Certificate in Telecommunications Systems Management will no longer be offered due to lack of interest. Duncan said students who considered the program instead entered the degree program.

Staci Stone and Renae Duncan propose the Center for Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences for humanities and arts students
Credit Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Center for Letters, Arts and Social Sciences

Former Interim Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts (and now Associate Dean) Staci Stone and Acting Provost Renae Duncan proposed a program centered on prospective and current students interested in humanities and fine arts. Describing the rationale, they said the center would help aid in 'what it means to be an arts student' and the value of the degree, and also help alleviate concerns parents might have. Duncan said data shows that students in these fields tend to do well academically and argued that the program would be unique to Murray State, adding "there’s no other program like this in the country."

Stone said the program would bring visibility to the programs that exist in the fine arts departments. "We believe that this center will help bring the visibility so that we can recruit more students, particularly top achieving, dedicated students who are passionate and talented in the humanities and fine arts and social sciences," she said to WKMS.

Given the national and state focus on STEM, Stone said now is a good time to consider a program of this nature. She added that this program also supports STEM efforts, citing an accrediting agency for engineering noting that students in the engineering field benefit from arts and humanities education (for example, communicating ideas, thinking creatively and an understanding of history). 

The program would initially aim to recruit 18 students a year who might not otherwise come to Murray State and could grow from there. There would be instructional cost and some administrative cost. 

In support of this proposal, Honors Program Director and English professor Warren Edminster spoke from the audience. He said Murray State has comparatively low numbers in history, arts and humanities students and feels that is because the school doesn't have a reputation for these programs compared to the more heavily promoted agriculture and business programs. "Murray State is not necessarily the school with the best reputation out there. And so that's partly what this is about. It really comes down to recruitment for me.”

Several of the board members expressed interest in the idea. Chair Stephen Williams said "this sounds very exciting" and urged "the willingness to be innovative and take risks." A more in-depth proposal for recommendation expected at the next meeting in August.

On a similar note, Stone and Duncan proposed the Local Government Service Center. This project out of the Political Science and Sociology Department would collaborate with government offices in the region to offer graduate students 'assistanceships' in data collection and analysis. A more in-depth proposal is expected at the August meeting.

Other Items:

  • Stephen Williams was re-elected to Chair
  • Susan Guess was re-elected to Vice Chair.
  • The terms for Regent Jenny Sewell and Student Regent Clint Combs have expired and they were both recognized for their time and service on the board and to Murray State. 
  • A dedication for the new engineering building will be October 27.
  • There was a discussion involving the process of razing Springer College due to the mold issues that plagued the building over the past year. The building is not being used and the board voted to officially close the space. Razing will take a coordinated plan as the space happens to contain IT and electrical "hubs" for the campus as well as the emergency warning system sirens. Those things would need to be moved or re-routed. Davies said that the mold is not toxic. 
  • Old Franklin Hall will named Springer Hall II.
  • The Duncan House in Hopkinsville will be made a Duncan Park with a dedication ceremony.
  • Following up on a consideration at a previous board meeting to outsource health services, VP for Student Affairs Don Robertson said a recent exploratory meeting with health vendors expressed interest in possible partnerships. Further discussion and recommendations are possible in the December meeting.
  • President Bob Davies noted during the Report of the President that during a recent trip to China the president of Qingdao University remarked that the Chinese government is investing a significant amount of money to build up their higher education infrastructure as part of a 30-year plan to compete for international students.

Outgoing Regent Jenny Sewell recognized for her service to the board and Murray State
Credit Matt Markgraf, WKMS
Outgoing Student Regent Clint Combs recognized for his service to the board and Murray State
Credit Matt Markgraf, WKMS
Meeting Dates for 2017-18

  • August 24 (planning advance)
  • August 25
  • December 8
  • March 9
  • June 8

Watch the Meeting:

This story has been updated.