By Bruce Speck
Special to The Globe
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Recently, Senate Bill 67, sponsored by Sen. David Pearce, of Warrensburg, has attracted attention regarding a component of Missouri Southern State University’s mission. I’d like to address the proposed changes noted in that bill and to discuss why I believe this change is good for the university.
From a historical standpoint, Missouri Southern began supporting an international approach to education in 1989 because it recognized the need to prepare students for careers in an increasingly global society. The international component to the university’s mission then became legislation in 1995.
While I am supportive of international opportunities for our students, I have been concerned with the limitations that accompany a university’s mission being inscribed in legislation. For nearly two decades, only five of the 13 Missouri state colleges and universities have had their missions tied to state legislation. Instead, the normal procedure is to have missions in the Rules of the Coordinating Board for Higher Education.
Having missions stated in the Rules of the CBHE, rather than in a statute, provides a university with more flexibility for future direction because changes do not require legislative approval. We don’t know how the world will continue to change and what our students will need decades from now.
I believe part of the confusion around this issue centers on how to define the role of “international” in our mission. Our mission is clearly stated within our strategic plan, and defines Missouri Southern as a “state-supported, comprehensive university offering programs leading to undergraduate and graduate degrees. Central to our mission is a strong commitment to international education, liberal arts, professional and pre-professional programs, and the complementary relationship that must exist among them to prepare individuals for success in careers and lifelong learning.”
This language was developed and approved through the strategic planning process that included broad participation by constituents from across campus.
Our mission cannot be confined or defined by the term “international.”
International is, however, an important component of our mission. What we have done to internationalize the campus for students is commendable; our themed semester every fall is extraordinary, particularly because no other institution in the nation has such a program, and because it helps bring the world to the campus for students who choose not to study abroad. I have no intention of eliminating the international component of our mission. I support it.
On a personal note, my wife and I have encouraged all three of our children to engage in international travel and we have funded much of that travel. Our son’s undergraduate degree is in international studies, and his overseas experiences have expanded the knowledge he gained in that program. Both our daughters taught in Saudi Arabia, and we were excited they could have that experience.
The important thing to note is that removing Missouri Southern’s mission from state statute does not change our mission. If we were to change our mission, I would facilitate a campuswide discussion, because that would truly have the potential to influence the direction of the university.
A change in statute will not affect funding or change our status as a statewide university, and it will have no impact on the day-to-day operation of Missouri Southern. Students will continue to have the opportunity to study abroad, engage in the themed semesters, and interact on campus with students from other parts of the world.
Providing students with insights into the world is a critical part of higher education, and we will continue to prepare our students for success in careers and in lifelong learning.
Bruce Speck is the president of Missouri Southern State University.