Curators' confirmations in doubt as vote on tuition hike approaches

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 | 8:59 p.m. CST; updated 1:20 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 1, 2012

*Although it had been expected, the UM System Board of Curators will not vote Friday on tuition increases. "I don't yet know the timeline for when that will happen," spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead said. The curators will discuss the proposed increases when they meet Thursday and Friday at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. An earlier version of this story mischaracterized what the curators will do at the meeting regarding tuition.

COLUMBIA — With a vote on tuition and fees looming, the futures of two University of Missouri System curators are in doubt this week — again.

Curators Craig Van Matre and Pamela Henrickson were appointed to the UM System Board of Curators last year by Gov. Jay Nixon, but neither appointment was approved by the Senate during its 2011 legislative sessions.

Henrickson, a Jefferson City attorney, is still scheduled for a hearing Wednesday morning with the Gubernatorial Appointments Committee, said Farrah Fite, majority caucus communications director.

Last week, Van Matre had his hearing with the committee, which will hold votes as early as Wednesday to decide whether to advance both confirmations to the full Senate.

If Nixon withdraws the names, the board will have only six active curators on the nine-member governing body when it meets next week at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. *Curators are slated to discuss tuition and fee increases at all four UM System campuses.

Curator Judith Haggard of Kennett resigned on Jan. 17, saying she could not finish out the final year of her six-year term. 

Van Matre, a Columbia attorney, said he received a call Monday from Boards and Commissions Director Deborah Price, who told him the governor’s office was planning to withdraw his appointment. Price called him again Tuesday afternoon to tell him the withdrawal might not occur.

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer has not requested that Van Matre’s name be withdrawn, Fite said. Mayer is also the chairman of the Gubernatorial Appointments Committee.

Only Senate approval is required for curator confirmations.

Van Matre's appointment has been withdrawn twice already after failing to be approved during legislative sessions last year. Henrickson's appointment was withdrawn once last fall. The debate over Van Matre's Senate confirmation surrounds an August 2007 editorial he wrote for the Columbia Daily Tribune.

The editorial criticizes state Republicans' reaction to the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan. Van Matre wrote that it appeared some judges were not approved by then-Gov. Matt Blunt because of their position on whether abortion should be legal.

State Sen. Kevin Engler said he takes issue with the editorial because it shows strong political views, particularly when Van Matre refers to state Republicans as Gov. Blunt's "minions."

"If somebody has a lot of political views one way or the other, his views will affect how he acts on the Board of Curators," Engler said.

Engler said that he will filibuster Van Matre's appointment if it comes before the full Senate and that other Senate Republicans have told him they will do the same.

"I would prefer not to filibuster," Engler said, adding that he would rather Van Matre’s name be withdrawn. "We are not out to embarrass him."

Van Matre said political beliefs have not historically been a consideration  for appointments to the Board of Curators.

"The Board of Curators is supposed to be nonpolitical," he said. "In the year and a half I've been on the board, politics has never been a consideration. The only consideration has been what's good for the university. … And so using political beliefs as a criterion for how curators are selected is going to change things if it continues."

Van Matre said that last week, at least one senator told him that he would oppose Van Matre's confirmation because of the views expressed in the Tribune editorial.

"The reason they gave is my position on those issues: separation of church and state, abortion and the Missouri Court Plan," Van Matre said.

He said he was uncomfortable with the idea of having no political views.

"There are 34 senators," he said. "It's impossible to agree with all of them. They can't even agree with themselves. The only solution is to believe in nothing, and someone who believes in nothing isn’t worth much."

Van Matre has been appointed to the Board of Curators three times: in January, June and October 2011. Each of the first two times, the governor’s office withdrew his appointment before it faced Senate confirmation. Even when he was not allowed to vote because his appointment had been withdrawn, he still attended curators' meetings. 

Henrickson has joined meetings since her appointment in August 2011. She did not return a call to her office on Tuesday.

Van Matre said he doesn’t have "any trouble" with being withdrawn.

"If it's going to be a waste of time, it doesn't make sense to force the issue," he said.

Van Matre said he isn't sure whether he will eventually pull himself out of the process to end the cycle of withdrawals and re-appointments.

"I'm going to have a conversation with the governor before I make a decision like that," he said.

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Ellis Smith January 24, 2012 | 10:42 p.m.

What's next? Will future Board candidates be required to take vows of poverty and chastity? Well, maybe just vows of poverty: a vow of chastity would be positively un-American.

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