Murray State Update with Interim President Dr. Bob Jackson

Jan 16, 2019

Credit Murray State University / Bob Jackson

Interim President Bob Jackson sat down with WKMS Station Manager Chad Lampe to discuss a multitude of topics impacting the university from pensions, a search for the athletic director and dining services.

Pensions

The Kentucky Legislature has started a short 30-day session and Jackson said there are many issues impacting higher education, most notably the issue of pensions which he says KERS (Kentucky Employee Retirement System), without legislative changes, will require an 85% contribution for every dollar of salary for an employee. For example an employee with a $30,000 annual salary would require $25,500 dollars worth of a pension contribution from the university. This could cost the university millions of dollars in the coming year. The university’s current contribution for an employee with the KERS plan is 49% of every dollar of salary.

Jackson says the university has asked to freeze the rates for a year so better plans can be made. According to Jackson, the KTRS is the same plan for K-12 teachers as it is for those in higher education and says it’s on a better path path. Last month, Gov. Matt Bevin called a  special session to resolve issues regarding the pension and that proved to be unsuccessful.

“These are very high rates,” Jackson said. “There are millions of dollars in monies in our budget that we have to address the budget for and manage through. This is a very challenging topic and the legislature fully realizes that. The administration fully realizes that and it’s a topic that we must all work together and work through.”

Jackson hopes for a change to the system during the short session.

“We’re told that plans are being worked on,” Jackson said. “We feel very comfortable with the meetings we had last week in regard to possible plans maybe coming to find some relief for universities in regard to pension plans.”

According to Jackson, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville’s employees are in optional retirement plans that they’re created and have been in place for a number of years. However, Murray State University is in two separate pension systems and they also have an optional retirement plan.

Search For An Athletic Director

In July 2018, Allen Ward resigned from his position as the university’s athletic director to become the director at Abilene Christian University. Since then, Velvet Milkman, the current MSU women’s golf coach and senior women’s athletic administrator has served as the interim director.

Jackson said there’s internal and external candidates and that it’s been a healthy process. He said there’s been a round of interviews in regard to the position that occurred a few days ago. He went on to say that there’s been a number of good applicants.

Retention Efforts And Enrollment Predictions

Murray State University recently received national recognition in regards to its retention efforts.

The University’s fall 2018 retention rate is the highest among regional public institutions in the state of Kentucky with the retention rate for overall students seeking bachelor’s or associate degrees being 76.4 percent. Jackson also noted that it is among the highest in the multistate region and that it’s the highest it has been in a number of years.

While enrollment numbers were down in the fall semester, Jackson said they’re doing everything they can to move the numbers in a positive way. He said enrollment officials have a number of initiatives going into next fall and that he’s pleased with the enrollment management staff.

“I really feel good about next year’s freshman class and starting that trend of moving the numbers back to where we would like to see them and rightsizing Murray State University.”

Food Service

In October 2017, Murray State University signed a 10.5 year, $35.6 million contract with Sodexo to outsource campus dining.

Jackson said they’re very excited about the new contract and what they’ll be doing during this spring and summer for next fall in regard to food service options. Chick-Fil-A, Starbucks, Steak-and-Shake and Einstein Bros. Bagels will be on campus.

“This is good for our students, it’s good for this community, it’s good for our faculty and staff and it’s a way for us really to enhance these options from a recruiting and retention standpoint also,” Jackson said.