BLANCHE BENEFITS FROM THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

A review of UM-St. Louis pronounces the university fiscally sound, but critics continue to question Chancellor Blanche Touhill's spending priorities

Critics of UM-St. Louis Chancellor Blanche Touhill are calling the University of Missouri's "system-level" review of her fiscal practices a "whitewash" and jumping on the review's assessment of the proposed performing-arts center. The 49-page review says the new $50 million center could mean a $1.2 million-a-year operating loss. It describes the assumption that new state funding will be available for the center's maintenance, custodial services and utilities as "troubling," because "annually, the University requests funds for the operations of new and renovated facilities, but in the past ten years new state funding has not been forthcoming." Considering the "tight budget conditions in the state," the review team states, it is "highly unlikely that UMSL will receive additional state support for operating the Performing Arts Center." That means, the review concludes, that Touhill is expected to use existing budget reserves to cover the cost of the new theater and concert venue.

So even though the report received a positive spin because it didn't call for her head, Touhill still faces a unanimously approved faculty committee report expressing no-confidence in her leadership and charging that her practices have created a "chronic fiscal crisis" on campus that has led to "weakened academic programs." ("Taking Aim on Blanche," RFT, Sept. 22). But the review released Monday, completed by a four-person team out of Columbia, found that UM-St. Louis is "financially stronger today than it was in (fiscal year) 1991." But the review does state that the budget is "consistently developed on overly optimistic revenue estimates, which when unrealized necessitate reductions in authorized expenditures." The report said this practice was abnormal for university budgeting. In Touhill's response to her critics, she appropriates a line from Ronald Reagan when she concludes, "Are the students and citizens of this region better served today than 10 years ago?" Touhill suggests they are. Faculty members who don't buy into that concept will have a chance to make their case to James Cofer, the university system's vice president for finance and administration, at a meeting next Tuesday.

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