Senate candidates debate 'student curator' bill

Graham favors a vote, GOP rival Schaefer says the issue needs tweaking.
Amy Oslica / Graphic Designer

The push for a voting student representative on the UM system Board of Curators is a battle that has been raging for more than a decade.

Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, who is running for re-election in the 19th senatorial district, and Kurt Schaefer, his Republican rival, have differing opinions about the need of a voting student representative.

This year, a bill that would have granted that power passed the Missouri General Assembly but was vetoed by Gov. Matt Blunt in July.

The candidates have sparred over the issue on multiple occasions, including at a legislative forum held by the Associated Students of the University of Missouri last week.

Graham, who has sponsored versions of the measure in multiple sessions, accused Schaefer of being unwilling to provide students with a voice.

"I trust you to vote on the Board of Curators," Graham said, addressing students. "(Schaefer) doesn't want you to have that vote. He wants your vote on Nov. 4 but he doesn't want to give you a vote on the Board of Curators and that's a fundamental difference."

At the forum, Schaefer refuted Graham's accusation and said though he is not opposed to the idea of a student curator, he does not agree with the proposed two-year term for the position.

"I think that we should look at students who know that they are going to move on to be graduate students so that we know that they are going to be there for at least four years," he said. "I think the difficulty of material and sheer volume of information that they have to digest makes two years not long enough."

If passed, the bill would have replaced one of the nine curators with a student curator if Missouri lost a congressional district after the next census. The state Constitution mandates that nine curators reside on the board, one from each congressional district. Based on population estimates, Missouri could drop down to eight congressional seats in the next round of redistricting.

ASUM Board Chairman Craig Stevenson said there was concern over the fact that a curator would have been replaced.

"We figured out that we were going to lose a district," he said. "Instead of the student taking the place of that curator we would be adding a curator, and replacing someone whose term would be over anyway with a student."

If the bill had been signed into law, the student curator would have had voting rights effective 2012.

Nate Kennedy, who took this semester off of school to work as Graham's campaign manager, responded to Schaefer's comments.

"Lots of people have predicted that due to Missouri's slow growth, we're going to lose a congressional seat to Nevada, Georgia, North Carolina or another fast-growing state," Kennedy said. "The constitution dictates that there are to be nine curators to sit on the board and it conveniently works out that we have nine congressional districts."

Schaefer said basing a piece of legislation on an expected census change doesn't make sense.

"I think the bill was a weak and poorly conceived idea, speculative and a gimmick on the behalf of Sen. Chuck Graham to get student votes," Schaefer said. "I think if we're going to put a student curator on the Board there has to be a more comprehensive analysis of the makeup of the Board of Curators."

Stevenson said it is important to get a similar bill passed as soon as possible.

"If a stockholder owns 50 percent of a company, they get 50 percent of the votes in that company," Stevenson said. "The students compare to that. We don't even have one vote and that's all we're asking for. The student curator has the experience in the everyday workings of the university and I think that's something that the other curators lack."

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