KC medical school won't open Joplin branch

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 | 12:08 p.m. CDT

JOPLIN — Troubles at the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences have prompted the osteopathic medical school to call off plans to open a branch in Joplin, at least for now.

The Board of Directors on Tuesday rejected a proposal to open a branch on the campus of Missouri Southern State University.

The private Kansas City university has been embroiled in controversy since it fired former president Karen Pletz last year over alleged financial irregularities. The school also sued Pletz, and she responded by filing a wrongful termination lawsuit. The Internal Revenue Service is auditing the school.

H. Danny Weaver, board chairman and interim president of KCUMB, said the board wants to resolve some of those issues before proceeding with a partnership with Missouri Southern.

"It's a significant financial investment, and with so much unknown, we just don't feel like we can move forward until we get a better handle on what's in store for our university," Weaver told The Joplin Globe.

Weaver said the partnership with Missouri Southern could be revived in the future. He said those discussions could be "one, two or three years down the road."

Larry McIntire, a physician and chairman of a Joplin steering committees, said the group was disappointed but not surprised by the vote. The panel is still committed to bringing a medical school to Joplin, he said.

Missouri Southern and KCUMB had been working since January 2009 on a proposal to bring a 600-student satellite campus to Joplin. Under the proposal, Missouri Southern would have raised $10 million to construct a building that it would rent to the Kansas City school.

But the university began backing away from the proposal earlier this year when its troubles with Pletz erupted. In its lawsuit, the Kansas City medical school accused Pletz of fraudulently receiving millions of dollars for personal trips and other lavish expenses. It also accused her of donating university money to charities and then claiming the deductions on her personal tax returns.

Pletz responded in her lawsuit that she was wrongfully fired, alleging that university leaders knew about and approved her expenses. She also said she was fired partly because of opposition to her proposal to have the university offer both medical and osteopathic degrees.

The school has about 600 students in Kansas City and a total of about 1,000 in its programs.

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