- Associated Press - Friday, March 10, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - University of Missouri System President Mun Choi said Friday that the system has outlined a number of ways it would deal with possible budget cuts that would stem from a proposed 10 percent cut in state funding next fiscal year.

The first action came Friday when he eliminated a contentious performance bonus program for top administrators. It came under scrutiny this week after an audit revealed the system doled out about $1.2 million in performance incentives to 18 top university administrators over the last three years. The bonuses were given without direct approval from the Board of Curators and without clear performance criteria, the audit said.

Lawmakers criticized the program, saying the universities should be tightening their belts in anticipation of less state funding.

Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway called for transparency, and praised Choi’s decision to stop the program.

“I’m pleased University of Missouri System leaders accepted responsibility and committed to ending bonus payments uncovered in my audit,” Galloway said. “I will be watching their progress and my team will return later this year to determine whether they have followed through on their commitment.”

In his news conference Friday, Choi also addressed concerns about tuition. Higher education leaders in Missouri say Republican Gov. Eric Greitens’ cuts will make it difficult to continue a long-standing tradition of keeping in-state tuition at Missouri universities steady.

Choi said the UM System and other Missouri universities will likely apply for a waiver allowing them to raise tuition beyond a cap established in a 2007 law.

“At this point it is too early for me to comment on what that percentage increase will be, but our goal going forward is to always ensure affordability and access and excellence,” Choi said.

When asked about employee layoffs, Choi didn’t rule out the possibility that some cuts could be coming. Employee salaries and wages account for nearly 80 percent of the system’s budget, he said.

“We will do whatever we can to ensure that we treat every one of our staff members as humanely and compassionately as possible,” he said. “But we are facing some significant challenges at our system.”

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