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Curators Vote Down Adding Contextualization to MU Thomas Jefferson Statue

No sign or QR code putting Thomas Jefferson's history as a slave owner in context will be posted by the bronze sculpture of him at MU. The UM System Board of Curators rejected both options in separate votes Thursday.

The curators voted 4-4 against establishing a QR code — a bar code used to access information online — which meant the proposal was defeated. Among the QR code supporters was Julia Brncic of St. Louis, who cited the weight of Jefferson's legacy.

The board voted 7-1 against a 300-word sign, with Brncic again favoring contextualization about the life of the third U.S. president.

The board was missing a ninth member. The Missouri Senate did not vote on the appointment of Keith Holloway of Cape Girardeau.

At a news conference after the board meeting, University of Missouri President Mun Choi said the $20,000 acrylic casing for a tombstone of Jefferson, which is next to the statue on Francis Quadrangle, will remain.

Board chair Darryl Chatman of O'Fallon said the task force recommendations "didn't necessarily align" with the group's original charge, "and that is problematic."

In recent years, the sculpture and the tombstone have been the targets of students protests. A petition calling for its removal was rejected by Choi and the curators last year.

Asked whether the presence of the statue and tombstone will continue to trouble African American students at MU, Chatman said, "I can’t guarantee or try to predict how other people are going to feel about Thomas Jefferson moving forward. I don’t think our decision is going to make those that weren’t happy with Thomas Jefferson be happy about it now."

Chatman added he empathizes with students who struggle with Jefferson's legacy and said resources are available for students who would like to continue discussion.

Choi created the task force from MU faculty, staff, students, curators and others affiliated with the university in July 2020. But after months of deliberations, members did not unanimously approve their final proposal to the Board of Curators.

The task force recommended that the sign explain Jefferson's role in drafting the Declaration of Independence, promoting the "importance of public education," owning more than 600 enslaved persons and fathering six children with an enslaved person, according to board documents.

Asked what he thought of the curators' decision, Choi said: “For me as an academic, I believe in contextualization. But the 4-4 vote wasn’t a vote against contextualization from my perspective.”

2022 fiscal year budget
Also Thursday, the board unanimously approved MU's operating budget for 2022. It includes $1.52 billion in total revenue and $1.49 billion in total operating expenses, according to board documents.

Revenue is projected to increase by $53.5 million. In May, the board approved a 5% tuition increase for all MU students.

In documents and in meetings, Choi and others have said increasing tuition will allow students to graduate faster. On Thursday, Greg Hoberock of Washington, Missouri, asked Choi about that.

Choi responded that the university wants to make sure the classes students need to graduate are available. He also said all of MU's research offices are understaffed.

"One of the key emphasis of the tuition increase will be to hire research faculty who perform," Choi said.

Starting Sept. 1, MU will cut the salaries of about 20 tenured faculty in the School of Medicine from 10% to 25% after conducting productivity reviews, the Missourian has reported.

The university expects "very strong" enrollment numbers this fall, the Missourian has reported. MU spokesperson Christian Basi said last week about 5,000 incoming freshman and 1,000 transfer students are predicted to enroll. According to board documents, MU expects fall undergraduate enrollment to increase by 2%.

Also according to board documents on the 2022 budget: Academic enterprise, accounting for about 50% of the university’s revenue, consists of auxiliary revenues (18%) tuition and fees (17%) and state funding (15%); patient medical service revenue accounts for 18%; and grants and contracts for 16%.

Salary and wages account for the largest portion of total expenses, 55.8%.

MU also projects total operating expenses to increase with revenue growth. Total salaries and wages are expected to increase by $44.7 million, including a $15 million increase for teaching and research salaries and wages. Faculty and researcher salaries, funded by tuition and state funding, are projected to increase by $10.1 million, and faculty and researcher salaries funded by grants and gifts are projected to increase by $5 million.

UM System Budget
The board also unanimously approved the entire UM System's 2022 fiscal year budget.

Total revenue is projected to be about $3.7 billion, and total expenditures are estimated at $3.5 billion, according to the board documents.

"We have been focused on operational efficiency and reshaping our staff," UM Chief Financial Officer Ryan Rapp said. He said it is critical they move to reset their five-year financial plan this fall.

The UM System received about $50 million from the CARES Act. Rapp said the "over performance" of the budget this year is largely due to federal aid because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but finances should remain steady in the coming years.