Governing power of higher education unlikely to change

Wednesday, January 21, 2009 | 12:39 p.m. CST; updated 8:18 p.m. CST, Wednesday, January 21, 2009

COLUMBIA — Missouri higher education officials calmed speculation this week by saying no plans are under way to change the way higher education in the state is governed. 

A conference call Tuesday night addressed concerns that the system would be simplified under one board, diminishing the power of other governing boards. The call resulted from reports written last week by the Missourian and Columbia Daily Tribune that elevated the issue. Those participating in the call included Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin; Sen. Charles Shields, R-St. Joseph; commissioner of the Missouri Department of Higher Education Robert Stein; and university presidents, including UM System President Gary Forsee,

“The purpose of the call was to clarify that there is a challenge in the state to get higher education to speak with one voice,” Stein said. “To my knowledge, there is no movement under way for constitutional changes.”

Concerns arose after Shields called the system "disorganized" in his opening address to the Missouri General Assembly.

The key concern was the possibility of streamlining the system and removing certain powers from current governing boards at universities.

“The coordinating board has not had a formal discussion about governance at this point,” Stein said, in reference to the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education. It is responsible for all state budget requests from state universities. The UM System operates under the UM System Board of Curators. Members of both boards are appointed by the governor.

Changes to the structure, such as moving powers from the curators to the coordinating board, would require a constitutional amendment.

Shields had previously told the Missourian that “at the very least in Missouri, we have to increase the power of the coordinating board.”

Stein said the discussion focused on the importance of working together toward common ends to strengthen education at all levels. Both Stein and Shields' goal is increasing the number of students graduating from higher education institutions in Missouri.

The call had 27 participants with more joining later, according to Kathy Love, Missouri Department of Higher Education spokeswoman.

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