LONDON — I could feel the anger, the disappointment and the politics way over here when the announcement came that our Boy Governor had vetoed the bill to empower the university’s student curator with an actual vote.
My first reaction was what regular readers would expect. I’m generally in favor of voting and of Chuck Graham. More often than not, I’m critical of the governor and my bosses, the curators, who urged the veto. So surely the lad had committed another boo-boo.
Then I violated my usual rule and began to think again. What I began to think was that this time Chuck is wrong and the curators and the governor are right. That’s a conclusion that’s almost painful, so I’ll try to explain.
What is a “curator,” anyway? There’s a starting point. A curator is, by definition, one who looks after, cares for, something. Great art collections have curators. It’s an especially apt descriptor, I think, for those who are entrusted with the care of what is one of our state’s most valuable resources.
These particular curators are chosen in a way that is intended to make the body broadly representative of the university’s real constituency, the citizens of the state. There’s one from each congressional district, and the rule is that the partisan majority can be no greater than one. These days, that means there are five nominal Republican curators and four nominal Democrats. Appointment is by the governor, with confirmation by the state Senate.
Like any political structure, this one can be and has been abused. We’ve seen damaging partisanship and anti-intellectual ideology. But it’s better than the alternatives, such as direct election.
There are no seats designated for alumni or for faculty. Those two groups, I’d argue, have at least as much legitimate interest in the direction of the institution as do the students. Still, several years ago, a nonvoting student member was added as what might be called a quasi-curator. I’m sure that seemed like a good idea at the time.
What has happened, of course, was perfectly predictable. Student curators and the interest group they represent have been frustrated by their powerlessness, the reality that they aren’t “real” curators. So they’ve agitated and eventually succeeded in persuading a comfortable majority of the legislature to give the student curator a vote.
Why not a voting student curator? Because, it seems to me, that undercuts the broadly representational nature of the board. If the students deserve a vote, then surely the faculty does. And the alumni association. And maybe the staff. You can probably think of other legitimate claimants.
A critic could argue that as an alumnus and a faculty member, I have a stake in this debate. True enough. My more important membership, though, is in the citizenry.
In theory, the curators govern the university on behalf of the citizenry of Missouri. If their practice has sometimes fallen short of the ideal, that’s a reason to seek better members, not to give more weight to one set of stakeholders.
For once, the governor got it right.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.