Statement of Concerns
The Faculty Senate of Missouri Southern State University wishes to express to the administration, the Board of Governors, our community and our students our grave concern over a number of recent proposals from and practices by our administration that we believe severely threaten the character, integrity and mission of our institution. Our concerns arise directly from our deep commitment to the institution and our care for how we can offer our students the quality of education they deserve. We see four pressing concerns that need to be addressed now.
Issues of Class Size
We affirm that we deeply desire Missouri Southern to grow both in size and quality. We believe that continuing to offer our students a quality education will enhance our institution’s reputation, but when size and quality are in conflict, quality is infinitely more important. Smaller classes, taught by highly qualified, approachable faculty, have always been a strength of Missouri Southern and should remain so.
Our current class size limits afford a reasonable opportunity for individualized attention to each of our students. Increasing class sizes would seriously inhibit our ability to realize this goal, as would thoughtless or careless proliferation and promotion of distance learning opportunities for which many of our lower-level students are not well prepared. The phrase “small classes” is the first item on our website, and small classes offer us an opportunity to attract students.
Therefore, we strongly oppose strategies for Missouri Southern’s development that would increase class size significantly beyond what are considered standard class sizes in our respective academic disciplines, especially when those strategies are promoted primarily for reasons of cost savings and without solid evidence of educational effectiveness. We believe that reaching and responding to such students in course settings that foster direct, personal interaction with professors should remain a high priority.
Erosion of Tenure and Lack of Confidence in Faculty
Though we know that no university can prosper without the combined efforts and talents of students, faculty, administrators and staff, we believe that an excellent faculty is vital to the university. Faculty engage with students every day of their academic careers. Faculty are the face of the university for most incoming freshmen. We advise and guide students in the choices they make that will have profound consequences for the rest of their lives. We determine the curriculum and programs that bring students to the campus, and we provide the leadership that helps them through the challenges of their academic careers, helping them to become successful.
Tenure is far more than a financial commitment: hiring tenure-track faculty is one sign that we have thought deliberately and intentionally about our institution’s future and, more crucially, our students’ future and a sign that we want to invest in them. Tenure-track and tenured faculty do the important work of serving on departmental and campus-wide committees to provide long-range strategies and a vital sense of continuity in our university. Without tenure-track positions available, our university is severely hampered in attracting qualified faculty, as recent results have already demonstrated with at least one failed search this academic year.
Therefore, we believe in hiring the best faculty available, and providing them the best facilities and work-environment possible. In practical terms, this means doing our utmost to see that we seek and support an adequate number of full-time, tenure-track faculty, because we believe that showing confidence in our faculty and investing in them will foster excellence in education for our students and better service to our community.
Accordingly, we strongly oppose recent administrative moves to erode tenure through such maneuvers as hiring faculty for one-year appointments, renewable or not, instead of for tenure-track positions, especially when such moves are rationalized by a cynical regard of tenure as merely as an undesirable financial burden imposed on the university, stretching into an indefinite future.
Failure to Hire and Retain an Academic Vice President
We also feel that Missouri Southern has suffered far too long by not having in place a permanent Vice President for Academic Affairs whose interest, first, foremost and always, is the integrity of our academic programs. The VPAA must certainly voice and reflect administrative concerns, but he or she must also be the administrator on campus who speaks mainly for educational interests and educational programs rather than for business concerns. The VPAA’s primary concern should be educational value, not the financial bottom line. We are extremely troubled by the fact that for well over a year, our President and Board of Governors have not been able to attract and hire a VPAA—especially in one case of a candidate who was highly praised by the faculty—who would bring to Missouri Southern a broad-ranging, informed and passionate commitment to higher education. We desperately need such an advocate for both faculty and students.
Threats to Missouri Southern’s Mission
We believe that we must do our best to meet the needs of the community traditionally served by Missouri Southern, the Four States area surrounding Joplin. Pre-eminent among those needs is the chance to obtain an affordable liberal arts education at a four-year public institution. We aim to serve students whose needs cannot fully be met by community colleges or private undergraduate institutions. We believe that talented students who wish to pursue a liberal arts undergraduate education in preparation for professional careers—in medicine, law, business and teaching, for example—should be able to do so at a regional public university and not be shut out from those possibilities simply because they cannot afford to attend more expensive and more exclusive liberal arts colleges.
Missouri Southern has a state-mandated International Mission, which should be preserved, promoted and prized. All those in our university and in our local community benefit from Missouri Southern’s special emphasis on today’s global community and our efforts to expose students and faculty to a wide range world views, cultures, environments, and expectations. We want our students to be able not only to function but to flourish as conscientious and capable citizens of our country and our world. Preserving, developing and substantially funding Missouri Southern’s International Mission are crucial to meeting this need. We therefore strongly resist regarding and treating our International Mission as in any way secondary or ancillary to other “components” of our overall mission. Our International Mission is highly regarded and has been identified by many students as the reason they chose our university.
We therefore oppose development strategies that would limit Missouri Southern’s institutional character, transforming it to an extension of a community college or a primarily polytechnic school.