Editorial: Curator appointments can’t wait

Missouri legislature must move past partisan motives and approve new curator selections.

The UM System Board of Curators has seen three members resign in three months.

Now, we find ourselves with three empty seats in a racially homogenous Board of Curators and a state legislature that refuses to confirm new appointments until next year.

It should go without saying that it’s essential these seats be filled as soon as possible. The curators are beginning the search process for the next UM System president, a process that can take a year or more to complete. The Board of Curators serves as part the search committee, and it will function best with full membership, as well best representing Missouri’s eight congressional districts.

Members of the Board of Curators are appointed by the governor, who works with the state Senate. Gov. Jay Nixon sees the urgency in this situation and is ready to make these appointments, he said in a press event last Thursday. Unfortunately for Nixon and every other Missourian, conservatives in the Missouri state legislature are ready to stand in his way.

Several Republican leaders, namely Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, have said they have no interest in filling the empty seats on the board until after Nixon leaves office in January. Conservatives are hoping the next governor will be a Republican, giving the party further control of the appointments.

Apart from the obvious partisan motive, this refusal on the part of GOP leadership to perform a basic function of their jobs stems from a systemic disdain for higher education in general evidenced by their consistent resistance to increases in funding. To many of them, MU and the UM System are simply tarnishing the state’s reputation.

The GOP agenda regarding MU isn’t about improving the university, nor is it about fixing the problems that caused last semester’s controversies. Instead, they want to make the negative attention vanish while simultaneously punishing the system through extensive budget cuts.

But it doesn’t even stop there. Not only would they prefer to hinder us rather than come to our aid, but they also want to step in and be in charge of the university themselves.

Yes, that sounds speculative, but you can’t make this up.

"It's apparent to me that no one is in charge,” Richard said last Thursday during a (press event)[http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/missouri-legislators-press-university-seats-vacant-36725072] at the governor’s mansion. “So we'll be in charge.”

So, in addition to leaving students from congressional districts one and four without a curator representing their interests, Richard is completely willing to step over numerous checks and balances and command unreasonable influence over Missouri’s higher education system.

But this isn’t anything new. Unfortunately, we’ve come to expect this type of deplorable behavior from Jefferson City.

We saw it this summer when MU had to defend itself from a whirlwind of criticism and accusations from Sen. Kurt Schaefer’s Sanctity of Life committee regarding the school's ties to a local Planned Parenthood clinic. So they dragged then-Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin down to Jefferson City to answer a slew of questions, all the while distracting him from his duties in Columbia.

Both then and now, the reasoning of Republican legislators was that no public money ought to go toward funding abortions. But the motives in this fiasco weren’t as simple as that. This was a political witch hunt against abortion alongside a chance to hold essential state funding over our chancellor’s head — all over a medical practice that has been legal for decades. Schaefer’s reach extends beyond that committee. He’s the chair of the appropriations committee, which decides the system’s funding. Richard also sits on that committee.

But the controversy surrounding MU and Planned Parenthood was just one battle in Schaefer and Richards perpetual war against higher education funding. Time and time again, these GOP leaders make every effort to vote against funding increases and even strive to make substantial cuts.

This is a defining moment in the UM System’s relationship with the state legislature. We need lawmakers who are willing to work with, not against us. That relationship is not made better by the negative rhetoric of Richard and other GOP leaders toward MU, nor is it improved by conservative zealots who only want to see the UM System reflect their political ideals.

We’ve suffered through budget cuts, we severed ties with Planned Parenthood, and Mike Middleton is down in Jefferson City urging the legislature not to make further cuts. The UM System has done its part.

Legislators, we urge you not to let politics stand in the way of these necessary appointments. We need nine curators, as soon as possible, who are ready to find a new system president and work toward restoring the UM System’s reputation. This cannot wait until the politics work in your favor. Do not let your state’s flagship university suffer because of petty party politics.

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