The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

April 17, 2013

Posed removal of MSSU’s international mission designation advances

JOPLIN, Mo. — After nearly two decades of operation with an international mission, Missouri Southern State University’s state designation could be on the verge of being jettisoned.

While administrators have indicated support for a Senate bill that would remove the statutory language designating the international mission, the proposal has been met with “complete surprise” and opposition by the faculty member who oversees the school’s international programming.

The motion to remove the state designation of MSSU’s international mission was introduced last week as an amendment to a larger education bill in the state Senate. The bill, called Senate Bill 67, was unanimously approved Tuesday by senators and was introduced Wednesday in the House of Representatives.

MSSU President Bruce Speck said late last week that the change would better reflect the overall mission of the university, which he said is not focused solely on an international education.

“We don’t have an international mission,” he said. “We have a comprehensive mission to educate students, and part of that is the international component.”

But Chad Stebbins, director of MSSU’s Institute of International Studies, said he is “absolutely not” in favor of eliminating the university’s mission from state law.

“It provides a certain amount of prestige to have the international mission as part of a state statute,” he said. “People take the international mission much more seriously if there is a state law behind it.”

A state statute currently designates MSSU as “a statewide institution of international or global education.” Lawmakers have proposed repealing that portion of the law, as well as a phrase mandating that MSSU “develop such academic support programs and public service activities it deems necessary and appropriate to establish international or global education as a distinctive theme of its mission.”

In the same statute is the formal redesignation of the school as a university instead of a college, a change that happened in 2003. That would remain unchanged by the bill.

Speck said the mission designation in the state statute should be taken out because it does nothing to distinguish MSSU from other colleges and universities, most of which offer the same international opportunities — foreign language classes, study-abroad programs — that MSSU does. The exception, he said, is MSSU’s themed semesters that provide a variety of programming each fall related to a specific country.

He also said that despite the designation, there is “not a pervasive attitude that MSSU is associated with an international emphasis,” and that many students statewide, as well as many in the local community, don’t automatically link MSSU with an international emphasis.

With or without the state designation of a formal mission, MSSU officials will “remain committed” to providing international and global opportunities to students, Speck said.

Speck said elimination of the state-designated mission would not directly affect state funding to MSSU. He also said he does not intend to use the proposed bill to eliminate the international programming of the university.

“We’d be fools to do that,” he said.

News of the bill has not been well received by some on the campus. Stebbins said his reaction to the posed repeal of the mission was one of “complete surprise.” He said he learned of it last week from a Missouri Southern graduate who is a lobbyist at the state Capitol.

He said he is concerned about what the future of the mission might be if it is not backed by state law.

“Again, there’s a certain protection when your mission is part of state legislation, and then to have it suddenly removed without the campus being aware of it is cause for concern,” he said.

Stebbins did not speculate about the potential impact of removing the mission from the statute. When asked whether it could endanger the Institute of International Studies or international programming at MSSU, or the funding and personnel associated with it, he said: “One never knows what might happen years down the road.”

Email and phone messages left earlier this week for Linda Hand, president of the faculty senate, were not returned.

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