In 2003, Missouri Southern State College officially became Missouri Southern State University.
Signed by Missouri Governor Bob Holden, Senate Bill 55 officially changed the name of the four-year school in Joplin and sent the institution on a course to offer graduate-level degrees.
But the process for the name change didn’t begin in the early 2000s according to former Senator Gary Nodler, who sponsored the bill that eventually was signed into law.
“The effort to change the name goes back many years,” Nodler said. “The college had sought legislation for almost 15 years before my election to the Senate. Former state representative Gary Burton had succeeded in getting bills through the Missouri House of Representatives on at least two occasions, but the bills died in the Senate under threat of filibuster.”
Nodler was elected to the Missouri Senate in 2002 and was sworn in on Jan. 3, 2003. He said that changing the name of Missouri Southern was just one aspect of the bill. The other aspect dealt with giving schools the authority to partner with other institutions to offer graduate degrees.
“Senate Bill 55 included language empowering any four-year institution without graduate degree authority to enter into agreements with any institution that possessed such authority to offer graduate programs on their campus,” Nodler said. “The end result was the issuance of a diploma bearing the names of both schools.”
Nodler said that while this authority extended across all state institutions, none has made greater use of it than Missouri Southern. It may be that because this authority was included in the Missouri Southern name change bill, that other institutions are unaware of their entitlement to the same process.
Although Senate Bill 55 was passed, it did not go unopposed through the legislature. When it was first introduced, Nodler said the bill faced hardy opposition, just as its predecessors had.
“When my bill was first introduced, it faced a filibuster from several senators, most notably the Senate Minority leader Ken Jacob,” Nodler said. “But after working with him toward compromise for about three weeks, he joined in the effort to pass the bill and handled the floor substitute for me. The bill passed the Missouri Senate with only three no votes less than a month after I took office.”
Other schools in the state used the bill to help push their name changes through, including Missouri Western and Harris-Stowe as both institutions added university to their names in 2004.
“In 2004 another name change bill passed that changed the names of several institutions, including Missouri Western,” Nodler said. “I supported that bill and there is no doubt that the passage of our bill a year earlier set the stage for that legislation.”
Having university in your school’s name provides a bit of prestige, but it also lets prospective students know they can get an advanced degree right here in Joplin.
“The name, which implies graduate education, means that education in Joplin does not stop at a bachelor’s degree, but MSSU is truly a place for lifelong learning,” Nodler said. “I do not believe that a metropolitan area that does not have a university can compete economically in our country today.”
Nodler says the list of people to thank for the name change is long as many individuals helped the cause.
“Without the loyalty and dedication of not only my house bill handler Bryan Stevenson, but all of the area state representatives who supported him in the house, this bill would not have become law,” Nodler said. “I also appreciate the support of Governor Bob Holden who agreed to sign the bill into law.”
Justin Maskus is sports information director at Missouri Southern.