Board of Curators enters presidential search with a diversity problem

After three recent resignations, the board has no racial minorities serving on it for the second time since minorities began serving in 1971.

Jessie Corbin / Graphic Designer

Three curators have resigned in the last three months, leaving the UM System Board of Curators with one woman and no racial minorities. The board’s current composition has sparked a conversation about its lack of diversity.

The board, which was created along with MU in 1839, is in charge of managing the UM System’s four campuses and appointing their chancellors, as well as the UM System president.

The resignations of Ann Covington, Yvonne Sparks and David Steward — all women or racial minorities — left the board with six members and a noticeable lack of diversity as the search for the next UM System president is about to start. This comes in the middle of discussions about issues of diversity and inclusion in the UM System since the race-based protests by Concerned Student 1950 and the resignation of UM System President Tim Wolfe in November.

The lack of diversity is nothing new. Since the creation of the board in 1839, 400 of the 426 members, or 93.7 percent, have been white males, according to records obtained by The Maneater. Only 6.3 percent have been women or minorities.

Current diversity

Former curator Cheryl Walker, one of the three black members who have been chair of the board, said she believes the board should be more diverse than it currently is.

“Our state is incredibly diverse, and the board should be reflective as a whole,” Walker said.

Walker also said that diversity allows for multiple perspectives and viewpoints, which in turn helps in achieving the board’s goal of successfully governing the university. She cited the upcoming presidential search as an additional reason why diversity is important.

“Research has shown when you have diversity, you have better results,” Walker said. “When developing criteria (for the next UM System president), there are not as many perspectives present when diversity is absent.”

Tracy Mulderig, the student representative to the board, said she believes diverse backgrounds bring multiple viewpoints to the table.

“The underrepresentation of minorities and over-representation of attorneys on the board is unfortunate,” Mulderig said in an email. “Our decision-making ability is improved when board members bring diverse backgrounds and perspectives to the table.”

Since women first began serving on the board, 18.3 percent of the 126 total members appointed have been women. Since the first black member was appointed, 14.3 percent of the total 77 members have been black.

Currently, the board has a more homogeneous governing board than the majority of other public universities in both Missouri and the SEC. For example, of the Missouri State Board of Governors’ nine members, three are women and one is black. Missouri Southern State University’s Board of Governors are all white, but three of the eight are women.

Craig Van Matre, a white former curator, said diversity can be a thorny subject.

“If you’ve got two candidates, one white and one black, equal candidates, I think the politician would prefer the black candidate to get the job because it would make it seem more fair,” Van Matre said.

He said, however, that some would be unhappy if they believed a candidate got the job because of their race.

The board has no racial minorities serving on it for the second time since minorities began serving in 1971. The first occurred after Walker’s term ended in 2009 and Wayne Goode, a white man, was appointed. Walker said the district she represents, the 1st Congressional District, which encompasses St. Louis and much of northern St. Louis County, has historically had a black curator as a result of the demographics of the district.

“Not only was it the first time there was no black curator on the board, it was also the first time in recent history for the 1st Congressional District that a black (curator) wasn’t serving,” Walker said.

At the time of Walker’s departure from the board, the board had the exact situation the current board does: one woman on the board and no minorities. Despite the unusual occurrence, she said, she doesn’t recall it getting any public attention.

Additionally, there are some who believe that diversity should be expanded in other ways. Van Matre believes that the board needs to be representative of other careers aside from attorneys, who currently make up the whole board. He said that most of the issues the board dealt with were economic issues, not legal issues.

House Bill 2179 was recently introduced to limit the number of a certain occupation being represented on the board. Under the provisions of HB 2179, no more than two members of the same occupation would be able to serve on the board in order to increase occupational diversity.

Walker said that while she agrees the board could be more diverse, she questions limiting an occupation.

“Is diversity as far as how you feed yourself important to address, but not the lack of gender and ethnic diversity?” Walker asked rhetorically.

A vacancy problem

Not only is the board lacking on the diversity front but also in the number of curators in general. The three vacancies — one-third of the total number of curators — come at a time when the board is about to start the presidential search.

Mulderig said serving on the board is a large time commitment for the curators, who volunteer their time, and will likely increase with the search.

“The curators dedicate countless hours each week to their board duties,” Mulderig said. “Unfortunately, it is difficult to balance the board duties with other important roles and responsibilities. Both Steward and Yvonne have demanding jobs, which can make scheduling additional meetings challenging.”

Members of the board are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, serving six years. Since 2007, the board has seen 17 curators appointed. Nine of them have resigned or had their appointments withdrawn.

Despite the current vacancies, members of the Senate say they will not fill the seats until Gov. Jay Nixon is out of office, something that is seen by some as a power move to punish the UM System following protests by Concerned Student 1950.

“I will tell you that we're not going to appoint any curators until the new governor in January," Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard said at a press event on Feb. 4. "It's apparent to me that no one's in charge (of MU). So we'll be in charge."

Van Matre said that the governor appoints people who they think have interest in the university system. He said he doesn’t recall there being this much difficulty in appointing people in years past.

“In the past, the appointments by a governor were routinely approved as long as they met the requirements,” Van Matre said. “As far as I know, just during the past four years or so has there been a problem confirming them.”

Current chairwoman Pam Henrickson said in an email that despite the vacancies, the board remains committed to their mission.

“We are always disappointed when a curator is unable to fulfill his or her term, but understand that the current demands on our curators can make it difficult to serve,” Henrickson said. “It is important to note that we still have individuals on the board who care passionately about the University of Missouri System.”

Walker called the refusal of the Senate to confirm any appointments “highly unfortunate” and said that not only will the four campuses suffer, but so will all constituents throughout the state.

“Why should the rest of the students, faculty and staff of the UM System and the citizens of Missouri be punished?” Walker said. “The notion that we could be at a standstill for the entirety of 2016 feels like punishment.”

Van Matre said the vacancies will mean more work for the curators who all have jobs.

Despite the lack of diversity on the board, Mulderig believes it is unfair to undermine the curators.

“Board members are making countless sacrifices to step up and serve this university,” Mulderig said in an email. “It is the responsibility of the governor and the state Senate to shape the demographic and professional makeup of the board. I truly believe that to board is eager to welcome the new perspectives of future appointees. Now we wait and see.”

Edited by Taylor Blatchford | tblatchford@themanater.com

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