Lawmakers to alter makeup of UM System Board of Curators

Monday, February 14, 2011 | 6:07 p.m. CST; updated 9:03 p.m. CST, Monday, February 14, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — As Missouri braces to lose a congressional seat, state lawmakers are forced to consider changing the current makeup of the UM System Board of Curators.

Current state law requires that each of the nine voting curators reside in a separate congressional district. In 2012, Missouri will lose one of its congressional seats.

Missouri will lose a congressional district because, according to the 2010 Census, Missouri's population has not grown as rapidly as the rest of the nation's.

Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, said lawmakers have no choice but to change the law.

Two proposals have emerged to compensate for the lost seat.

One would simply allow two curators to reside in the same congressional district. The other approach would make the ninth member of the board a student with full voting privileges. The current student curator, a 10th member, does not have voting powers under current law.

The voting-student approach is opposed by the chairman of the House Higher Education Committee — Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville — who filed a bill to allow more than one curator to be from the same congressional district. Thomson's bill would include provisions allowing no more than two members to be from the same district.

"Students have the responsibility to go to school and not worry about making these big decisions," Thomson said.

Laura Confer — the current student, non-voting member of the board — disagreed.

"Students are the constituency of the university and would represent the interests of the whole student body instead of a member representing their own district," she said.

Thomson cautioned that allowing a student to vote on the Board of Curators would create a slippery slope.

"If they allow a student, why not allow a member of the faculty? ... Before we know it we will have a 25-member board," Thomson said.

He also reiterated his support to continue to have a non-voting student member on the board.

Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, filed an opposing bill that would give a UM System student the power to vote on the Board of Curators. Her bill would allow the student member to be selected using the same mechanisms as the current non-voting member. The bill would allow the student member to vote on all matters except the hiring and firing of teaching faculty and staff.

Webber, an MU law student, said he also supports having a student voice on the board.

"I think it's important to have a university perspective on the board," Webber said.

Other lawmakers expressed concerns about the prospect of a student having a vote on matters such as the hiring and firing of a university administrator.

"People are chosen (for the Board of Curators) because they have expertise, knowledge and background," said Rep. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau.

Wallingford said he still believes students should be represented but not as a voting member.

The House Higher Education Committee is expected to take action on Thomson's bill by the end of the week.

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