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Ask The President: November 19, 2010

Moore: Good morning, and welcome to our first episode of “Ask the President: Dr. James Cofer on MSU, Current Events and Public Affairs.” This program allows you, the listener, to connect to one of our community leaders and ask him how current events tie into or affect the university here at home.

I’m Jennifer Moore, and I’m joined in the studio by the President of Missouri State University, Dr. James Cofer. Dr. Cofer, welcome to KSMU and the program.

Cofer: Thank you, I’m glad to be here.

Moore: We’re going to begin by talking about the national push to produce more college graduates. How is this being reflected here at MSU?

Cofer: Yeah, I can talk about the national numbers and the statistics and we’ve seen some of those…and young people are not graduating at the same rate in America that they are in other countries. We’ve fallen behind with our young people. What we’re doing is we’re very carefully looking at a lot of things, such as academic programs. And we’re not really wanting to close programs because we think we need to develop plans to recruit students in those academic programs where there’s low enrollment, so that we can have more graduates.

We’re also looking very carefully into some of our retention strategies, like living-learning communities; residential colleges; the pedagogy, how we teach, what we teach, to make sure that we’re retaining our students. And you’ve got to retain them first before you can graduate them. So there’s a whole lot of things that are going on behind the scenes that we’re doing to make sure that when we get students here, we keep them here and they graduate. And we have the programs that students need and that are needed in the region, even if they are maybe not producing 10 or 15 or 20 graduates a year, but that the region needs and that’ll help us create more graduates.

Moore: The state auditor, Susan Montee, recently released an audit of the university, which she said shows that the university lacks significant controls over its financial matters, including missing receipts, missing record books, and just poor oversight in general. What is the university doing in response to that audit report?

Cofer: Well you know, after I got here, we created a task force made up of three members of the staff. And we very specifically asked them to look at the audit and begin to prioritize what we needed to do. They’ve been working on that for a few months, and we’re beginning to see improvement. I’ve asked the CFO to do some things like create the reports that we need, budget the "actual" for me. The team is asking deans and call center heads what kind of reports they need, so we can create those reports that the auditor said we didn’t have.

We can begin to create those reports and begin to manage the monies a little bit better. In addition, we’re also looking very carefully at policies.

Some of the things that the auditor found were errors people made. And we’ve corrected those errors. But what we’re doing is, we’re looking very carefully at developing policies and procedures so we don’t have those errors. And we’ve been a little lax on those kinds of things. We’re making sure that the policies and procedures are followed, and I think that may be the most important thing.

Some of the things that have been suggested [are] that the internal auditor should go out and do the control system, and I don’t agree with that. I believe we need to have an internal control system to a good set of policies and procedures that addresses those issues because the auditor goes out after the fact. I don’t want to find those things by the auditor; I want to find those things in a normal, controlled process that allows us to make sure that we’re doing things correctly.

Moore: One listener who emailed his question to us didn’t mind that we gave his first name. Ryan is an alumnus of MSU. He’s asking how the looming state budget cuts will affect MSU’s expansion projects in downtown Springfield.

Cofer: Well, it’s going to be interesting how they do. And let me tell you what we’re doing: I’ve developed a budget process at this institution and I’m implementing where we’ve got lots of people helping us. I’ve created committees: academic committees, college committees, administrative committees, oversight committees…I know that sounds like a lot, but what we’re trying to do is get a lot of people involved in the process.

We want people that are where the rubber hits the road, as I say, in the colleges that are teaching--they're faculty--to tell us how best to make the changes in their area, instead of me telling them how to best make the changes.

As far as the cuts, we don’t know what they’ll be yet. We’re hopeful they won’t be a lot, but just in case they are, this budget process we’re going to look at and hope it works great. But for downtown, I’ve asked the vice president for economic development, who’s responsible for the downtown activity, to give me a business plan. How are we going to fund and finance the activities downtown, the Idea Commons, Brick City, and the "Willowbrook" properties, the Robert Plaster Center for Enterprise—how are we going to fund that, and how are we going to finance that? And that’s what we’re looking for to make sure we’ve got a financial plan in order.

Moore: Dr. Cofer, thank you very much.

Cofer: My pleasure.

Moore: Again, you’ve been listening to Dr. James Cofer, president of Missouri State University, in our new program, “Ask the President” here on KSMU. If you’d like to ask a question for next month’s program, you can do so by going to www.ksmu.org/askthepresident. Thanks for listening.