MU’s Graduate Professional Council honored four Missouri legislators during Graduate Education Week in Missouri on April 18.
This year’s recipients of the Esteemed Legislator Award include Sen. Jolie Justus, D- Kansas City; Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau; Rep. Stephen Webber, D- Columbia; and Rep. Mike Lair, R- Chillicothe.
The criteria for selection are a history of supporting and sustaining higher education through writing, proposing and sponsoring legislation.
GPC President Kristofferson Culmer said in a press release GPC has been recognizing legislators for more than 50 years, with a rough estimate of 50 state legislators having received the award.
“The legislators recognized by GPC with the Esteemed Legislator Award have shown a commitment to supporting higher education in the state of Missouri,” Culmer said. “We are proud to recognize them for their service.”
The honor came as an exciting surprise, Wallingford said.
“Higher education is at the top of my priority list,” Wallingford said. “When I was a freshman in the house, I was the vice chair for higher education. I had the opportunity to vote on a lot of legislation.”
Wallingford was one of the three freshmen legislators to introduce a bill, which supported the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education Coalition program. Though it met some resistance and many hurdles, Wallingford and the other two legislators were able to get it through the House and the Senate to eventually be signed by the governor.
Wallingford, a former professor at Southeast Missouri State University, said he is a strong advocate for strong mathematical and science foundational programs like STEM at universities.
“We need to encourage people to join these majors,” Wallingford said. “They are the future and will grow new businesses in Missouri. We can have economic development and job growth through a stronger higher education focused on training young people to be the drivers for companies and start ups.”
Lair, the vice-chairmen of the Joint Committee and Appropriations Chair for Higher Education, said he was very pleased to be recognized and talk to the people his work in legislation affects.
He is the sponsor of House Bill 3, which appropriates money for expenses, grants and distributions of the Department of Higher Education.
Lair and the Joint Committee have been trying for the last year to create a funding equation for higher education.
“It’s been difficult because of the economic downturn that Missouri has been under,” Lair said. “That’s part of the deal. I was elected in 2008, and we’ve had a bad economy since I’ve taken office.”
Lair, a teacher of 38 years, said he is used to dealing with very little money but feels strongly for higher education funding.
“It’s part of the fabric of the state,” Lair said. “The higher education community is multifaceted. Each institution does something very different. To see all the different types in facilities and in a way help makes me feel good.”
Webber and Justus were unavailable for comment. This is the second time Webber has been honored, adding his name to the three other legislators who have been recognized as multi-year awardees.