Columbia Tribune: Senate approves commission to study University of Missouri administration

By Rudi Keller
Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY — The University of Missouri would be required to implement recommendations of an eight-member review commission or face possible budget cuts next year, the Missouri Senate decided Monday.

The Senate voted 28-2 to approve a proposal from Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, to look at the university’s rules, administration, campus structure and auxiliary enterprises as well as degree programs, research and diversity efforts.

The commission is Schaefer’s response, in part, to the turmoil on the Columbia campus this past fall that culminated in the resignation of UM System President Tim Wolfe during demonstrations over racial issues. Other issues roiling the campus included changes in graduate assistant health insurance, faculty teaching waivers, administrative infighting and ties to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia.

“What we are trying to do with this is acknowledge there were some failures in what happened last fall,” Schaefer said.

The Missouri House in March approved a higher education spending bill that included cuts to the UM budget. The House froze the university out of a pool for increasing state aid to public colleges and universities and cut $8.6 million from its operating allocation for the year starting July 1.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday attempted to restore some of those cuts as part of its preliminary budget work.

The review commission’s recommendations are due by Dec. 31. If the curators fail to implement them, that lack of action “shall be considered by the General Assembly during the appropriations process,” the resolution states.

The resolution intrudes on the constitutional responsibility of the Board of Curators, Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said during debate. Schupp and Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis, were the only lawmakers to oppose the resolution.

Schupp sought to make adoption of the recommendations optional for the university.

Lawmakers are overstepping “the constitutional governing body of the university by putting into place this task force,” Schupp said. “I don’t think it is appropriate.”

Directing the curators to implement the recommendations or face sanctions is appropriate because the state gives the university about $500 million annually, Schaefer said.

It is wrong “to imply that we should always defer to the … curators, who have shown they don’t have a stellar record,” he said.

Schupp also objected to language in the resolution granting authority to appoint commission members to Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, and House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff. Her amendment attempted to give one appointment each to Democratic legislative leaders to ensure the commission was bipartisan.

The amendment was defeated on a voice vote.

Members of the commission would not be lawmakers. The resolution directs that members show expertise in governance, finance and school leadership as well as a “demonstrated understanding of and commitment to the University of Missouri System.”

A major part of the commission’s work would be to determine whether the university is being run efficiently, Schaefer said.

The Senate Appropriations Committee set aside $750,000 for the commission’s work during budget hearings Monday evening.

“This is a big-picture, 30,000-foot view,” Schaefer said. “At least the way I see it.”

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