Reading the newspaper lately, I”ve begun to feel like the man who survives a shipwreck and when he finally makes it home, learns his family has already buried him and is so thrilled about the insurance money, they won”t accept the fact that he”s still alive. Or perhaps I should say, I feel like the Grandma whose ungrateful family wishes she”d just keel over so they can get their inheritance sooner rather than later. Too bad for them, Grandma is a smart old bird and she ain”t dead yet.
The Commercial Dispatch is full of letters and editorials tolling the death-knell for MUW, yet when I walk around campus, I don”t see a university at death”s door. One letter writer says we need to look at the facts. Well, U.S. News and World Report looks at the facts of universities around the country every year and has consistently ranked MUW high among Southern public Master”s-level universities. This doesn”t sound like a last gasp, if you ask me.
MUW does face challenges, as do all of Mississippi”s universities and others around the country. MUW faces additional challenges, due to changing funding formulas from the IHL system, yet our deans and department chairs have submitted proposals to meet these challenges without cutting programs or faculty. We are prepared to weather this financial storm as we have weathered many in the past, and if difficult decisions about programs do become necessary, we are fully equipped to make them on our own without being merged with a larger university.
Let me be clear: Merger would not “save the ”W” and it is doubtful it would save much money. Governor Barbour”s budget predicts that a merger would save $35 million after one year, though he doesn”t specify how. So let”s look at some facts. MUW”s total appropriation in 2009 was $13.5 million. The other two schools the Governor proposes to merge are Alcorn with an appropriation of $21.6 million and Valley with an appropriation of $17.5 million in 2009 (IHL System Profile, January 2009). Appropriations for the 2010 fiscal year were cut from these figures, so the current appropriations would actually be less.
How the state can save $35 million from $52.6 million (or less) and keep these campuses open is a mystery. The only way to do it would be to dramatically cut programs on the merged campuses, since administrative costs do not make up over 2/3 of the budgets of these schools. My guess is that Jackson State would take the bulk of the remaining $17 million to run two greatly reduced satellite campuses, and Mississippi State would get a smaller amount to run a few programs in Columbus.
Anyone who believes that after a merger MUW would look anything like it does today is sorely mistaken. The liberal arts college atmosphere and most of the professional programs would be gone or dramatically changed. The only way to “save The W” is to support it as an independent university with its current, distinct mission. Every letter and every editorial that falsely claims we are at death”s door has the potential to drive away prospective students and weaken our prospects. These doom and gloom scenarios do more to hurt MUW”s enrollment than its current name ever has, and we”ve lived with both for decades.
When the BRAC commission threatened closure of Columbus Air Base, the community went to the mat to support it. I remember banners on Main Street, letters and editorials praising the base, and an all-out effort from community leaders to convince the commission that the community would do whatever it took to keep its base. I call on community leaders now to make the same effort for your university that you did for your base. Unless you want Columbus to become a satellite city of Starkville, it is in the best interest of the community and of the university to do so.
Kendall Dunkelberg, Professor of English, MUW, Columbus