The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 19, 2013

MSSU faculty members question posed removal of mission designation from law

JOPLIN, Mo. — The president of Missouri Southern State University on Friday reiterated his support for a Senate bill that would repeal the school’s international mission designation from state statute, even as some faculty members disagreed with that motion and questioned why there had been no conversations about the issue.

In a statement prepared for Friday’s Board of Governors meeting, President Bruce Speck said that eliminating the international mission designation from state statute would not change that mission as part of the university.

“The removal of the particular language in statute will not affect funding,” he said in his statement. “It will not change our status as a statewide university. And it will have no impact on the day-to-day operation of the university. 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.”

Linda Hand, president of the faculty senate, said during her report to the board that many faculty members were concerned there had been no discussion of removing the mission from statute before the amendment’s filing. She said she had spent the week trying to answer phone calls and emails from concerned faculty about the Senate bill, about which she knew little.

“Some people are really very unhappy and very worried that it is the first step in taking apart our international mission, and most of us don’t want that to happen,” she said.

Hand asked the board, on behalf of the faculty, whether there was a way to slow down the movement of the bill through the General Assembly.

“Because we really don’t understand, even though Dr. Speck has given a report — we still feel unsure about what the purpose of it is and why we need it right now,” she said.

When asked by the Globe after the meeting, Speck said slowing down the bill wasn’t likely to happen.

“I don’t have plans to do that,” he said.

News of the proposed statute revision was a “complete surprise” to most of the campus last week, said Joy Dworkin, an English professor and president-elect of the faculty senate. She addressed the board Friday morning during a meeting of its academic affairs committee.

Dworkin said many faculty members, students and alumni think having the international mission in statute is important.

“The statute is evidence that the institution is committed to maintaining that and promoting it,” she told the Globe afterward. “Were we to be asked why are we doing it, we can turn to the statute.”

Dworkin told the board that there should have been some communication between the administration and the campus about the removal of the mission from statute before it was proposed by legislators.

“There was no campus discussion regarding eliminating something from state statute related to our academic programs,” she said.

When asked by the Globe after the meeting, Speck said that he should have informed the campus community of the legislation.

“There was a gap in communication,” he said. “I admit that, and I take responsibility for that.”

Speck said the amendment was the result of conversations over the past few months with Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, chairman of the Senate education committee and one of the backers of the bill. He said Pearce wanted to “clean up” the language of statutes related to higher education, and Speck had long been “concerned” that the mission didn’t necessarily belong in statute.

Speck said the normal procedure for colleges and universities is to list their missions with the Coordinating Board for Higher Education. That would give a school more flexibility for future direction, as any changes to the mission would not require legislative action.

“We don’t know how the world will continue to change and what our students will need decades from now,” he said.

Members of the Board of Governors “understand the logic behind Dr. Speck’s action” in asking for the mission to be removed from statute, said Sherry Buchanan, chairwoman of the board. Echoing Speck, she said a change in statute would not change MSSU’s mission, which calls for “strong commitment to international education, liberal arts, professional and pre-professional programs” as part of a comprehensive education.

“The mission is spelled out in our strategic plan,” she said.

Bill status

Senate Bill 67 is a general education bill that is under consideration in the House of Representatives, having already been approved by state senators. An amendment filed to it last week by Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, seeks to remove Missouri Southern State University’s international mission designation from statute.

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