Editorial: Budget issues loom for W, Brigham

September 1, 2010 11:10:00 AM



Allegra Brigham, Mississippi University for Women''s interim president, is locked in a game of good cop, bad cop. 


Brigham''s "good cop" was on display in July, when she was apologizing to fractured alumni groups at a luncheon at the Columbus Country Club for the rift created between alumni and the school by the last president, Claudia Limbert. Limbert disenfranchised the university''s alumni association amid a plan to change the university''s name, which ultimately failed. 


Brigham was calling on alumni to reunite for the good of the school, something that may or may not happen over time. 


What is certain to happen, is more cost cutting -- and the affable Brigham will be forced to put on her "bad cop" hat. 


We saw a reminder of how bad things can get this week when the University of Southern Mississippi announced it would lay off 29 faculty members in the fiscal year 2011-2012, which begins next July 1. Universities are required to give tenured faculty nine months'' notice if their contracts will not be renewed. 


Southern Miss also said it would also eliminate some programs to make up for an anticipated $15 million shortfall next fiscal year. 


The much smaller MUW is expecting cuts as well, but told The Dispatch it wasn''t planning to lay off any tenured faculty for fiscal year 2012. The university has been saving money through attrition, larger class sizes, and other measures. 


Still, the university is expecting a state allocation of $10.9 million for the next fiscal year, down from $15.9 million just two years ago -- a difference of more than 30 percent.  


This is where the business acumen of Brigham, former CEO of Four County Electric Power Association, comes into play. A business-minded person is needed to guide The W through the next few years, each of which is expected to be tighter than the last. We expect Brigham to be around for at least a year during the search for a permanent president. 


We applaud The W''s efforts, begun under Limbert, to attract additional students -- and revenue -- through online courses and degree partnerships with the state''s community colleges and Mississippi State University. The neighboring universities are also examining how the two can share some services to save money.  


We expect Brigham to continue that work in the interim. The W''s future is contingent upon finding costs savings wherever possible, while at the same time strengthening the quality of the education offered.  


We know as the budget picture becomes clearer, Brigham will have to put on the "bad cop" hat and make some unpopular choices. We only hope the university''s austerity measures already in place will help offset any shocks like those rattling Hattiesburg this week.