By Emily Younker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
State Sen. Ron Richard is working to remove part of a bill that would repeal the statutory designation of the international component of Missouri Southern State University’s mission.
The bill, including an amendment seeking the MSSU action, was approved last week by the Senate. It has since been introduced in the House of Representatives and referred to its Higher Education Committee.
Richard, R-Joplin, said he has asked House members to delete the amendment from the bill, and he said he is certain that they will. He said his motivation in seeking to remove the amendment is to give MSSU officials time to research potential financial outcomes that could result if the mission is taken out of state statutes.
“We want to make sure there’s no unintended consequences,” he said.
It’s a sudden reversal in the fate of the statutory designation of the university’s international mission, which was proposed for repeal just two weeks ago. That caught many at the MSSU campus by surprise.
The repeal was supported by MSSU President Bruce Speck, who said the mission belonged on file with the Coordinating Board for Higher Education, not in state law. But several faculty members, students and alumni have spoken out against removing the designation from the law, worried that such a move could lead to the further dismantling of the international mission. At least two faculty members also said at last week’s Board of Governors meeting that they were unhappy that there had been no previous conversations on campus about the possibility of modifying the statute.
Sherry Buchanan, chairwoman of the Board of Governors, said Tuesday that any immediate focus on the issue will involve on-campus discussions about the advantages and disadvantages of taking the mission designation out of the statute.
“I think this is a good starting point in trying to determine what is in the best interest of the institution,” she said.
When asked whether MSSU will pursue a change to the statute in the future, Buchanan said: “I think that’s what the discussions need to center around.”
Speck said any future legislative direction on the statute would come from him. He said that if MSSU leaders decide to pursue the statute modification during next year’s legislative session, the university will likely wait to hold public discussions on the matter until the fall, when faculty and students reconvene for the semester.
Despite saying last week that he would not ask legislators to slow the bill’s movement through the legislative steps, Speck on Tuesday said he understood that call.
“We certainly agree with the fact that if we stop it now, we have more time on campus to discuss it,” he said. “I think there have been enough concerns about it that we need to take a step back and look at it, and I’m fine with it.”
He again said that any change to the state statute would not affect the international component of MSSU’s mission, which is listed in its strategic plan.
He also said, as he has previously stated, that a change in the state statute would not affect funding from the state.
“There are no financial concerns that I’m aware of,” he said.
Chad Stebbins, director of the Institute of International Studies, said he hopes the faculty senate, student senate and perhaps the entire community will participate in conversations about the mission designation before the board makes further decisions.
“I think the additional time to study all the ramifications would be very beneficial,” he said. “We’d like to address the possible consequences of it coming out of the state statute. But I think mainly just the opportunity for everyone to be heard, for all voices to be heard on the matter, would be in everyone’s best interest.”
Linda Hand, president of the faculty senate, did not return a message seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.
Support for the international mission was cited over the past week, with alumni, faculty members and students taking to online platforms to make their voices heard.
Ivy Love, a 2010 MSSU graduate with degrees in Spanish and French, helped launch a Facebook group on Saturday that called for alumni support of the mission. By Monday morning, the group had more than 700 members.
“The weight that comes with a state statute including our international mission is worth protecting, and I hope it’s now clear to administrators and legislators that a great many members of the Southern community strongly believe that and are willing to fight for it,” Love said in a statement emailed to the Globe.
Support also came from an online petition that was started on Change.org by Kayla Curran, a 2012 MSSU graduate with degrees in English and theater. The petition, which urges administrators to keep the international mission, had more than 325 signatures by Monday.
MSSU PRESIDENT BRUCE SPECK acknowledged that he “didn’t provide enough clarity” to the campus about the proposal to change the statute.