A proposed merger between the University of Missouri system and Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville will take longer than expected. Thorny issues such as admission standards, educational fees, changing Northwest’s name and workers’ compensation have slowed the merger, officials from both universities said Friday.
This is the second time in five months that the universities have decided to delay seeking approval.
“It’s a very complex process that we are involved in, and as we get deeper into it, there is just more work than we anticipated,” said Steve Lehmkuhle, the UM system vice president for academic affairs. “And that is why we are not able to meet our official timelines.”
Merger talks began in early April. A few weeks later, the administrations decided to delay seeking approval from the Missouri General Assembly, bumping it back to January 2004. Now, the soonest the proposal will go before the legislature will be sometime in 2005.
“It was not in our best interest to follow the old timeline when we are not ready,” Elson Floyd, president of the UM system, said in a statement released Friday .
The system currently has four campuses — in Columbia, Rolla, St. Louis and Kansas City — with almost 61,000 students in the fall of 2002. Northwest has about 6,500 students on its campus north of Kansas City.
Lehmkuhle said the delay is not a deal breaker; rather, it allows time for both universities to gather more information for their governing boards about the repercussions of a merger.
“We are pursuing something that has never been done before, and that is the voluntary merger of two public universities,” Floyd said in the statement.
“We didn’t have any models to follow,” Northwest President Dean Hubbard said Friday evening. “We couldn’t call the state of Alabama, say, and say, well, tell us what to expect here — because this is the first time this has ever been done.”
Before it can go before the legislature for necessary approval, an agreement between the two universities must be approved by the University of Missouri Board of Curators and the Northwest Board of Regents.
“For the most part, the general assembly has reacted thus far positively to the possibility of a merger,” Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said Saturday.
Rep. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, said Saturday that it’s “way too early to tell” whether a merger would be approved by legislators.
“I think it’s great that they (the university leaders) are willing to say, ‘We are not going to rush this,’” he said.
In a Sept. 10 meeting, three members of the Northwest board expressed concerns about the state of the merger and said they weren’t briefed often enough about the progress of the talks. They also expressed concern about Northwest changing its name once it becomes part of the system.
UM system spokesman Joe Moore said the UM and Northwest boards will have to decide on the name once the merger takes place. He said administrators think it is a good idea to use the University of Missouri-Northwest, later changing it to the University of Missouri-Maryville.
Educational fees are a point of debate in the merger talks. UM system students pay $194 per credit hour, while students at Northwest pay $161. Workers’ compensation has been discussed as well — the UM system is self-insured, while Northwest is insured under a state program.
Despite the delay, the two presidents said they agreed to establish a partnership between the universities to work on projects such as graduate programs, research and economic development.
More broadly, a merger with Maryville is one of many changes being explored by the UM system. Other changes could include consolidating positions of leadership and departments.
Hubbard said he is confident the merger will occur.
“I don’t see anything on the horizon that’s not resolvable,” he said. “But the time frame we had was too ambitious.”