JEFFERSON CITY — Leaders of Northwest Missouri State University and the University of Missouri system sought Tuesday to persuade lawmakers that a merger of their institutions would spawn academic and economic improvements.
But the first legislative hearing on the proposed merger revealed skepticism among some senators as to whether the schools had the commitment to make the marriage work, and whether the union would damage the state’s relationship with its other universities.
“We have some work ahead of us,” UM system President Elson Floyd said after making the case for the merger to the Senate Pensions and General Laws Committee.
The governing bodies of the two universities already have voted to pursue the merger. But a change in state law is required for it to move forward.
A bill by Sen. David Klindt, R-Bethany, would authorize the merger and give the universities until Aug. 28, 2006, to finalize the agreement.
Floyd and Rollie Stadlman, a member of the Northwest Missouri State Board of Regents, said the merger would create broader academic and research opportunities for the Maryville campus, yielding in new economic development opportunities for the entire region.
“This merger is the right thing to do for the people of Missouri, and it is the right thing to do for the future of higher education,” Floyd said.
But the committee’s chairman, Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, questioned whether the merger would draw state resources away from the state’s remaining regional universities. And Sen. Chuck Gross, R-St. Charles, wondered if it would jeopardize funding for the university system’s St. Louis campus.
Floyd and Stadlman said the answer to both fears was “no” — that the University of Missouri system would simply assume the administration of the Maryville institution’s current budget, with no additions or subtractions.
Over time, the merger might save up to $1.5 million in administrative costs by resulting in more efficient management, Floyd said.
Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, a member of the committee considering the bill, expressed perhaps the greatest reservations. He suggested the universities should get strong endorsements from the Maryville City Council and Chamber of Commerce, plus other locally prominent groups and individuals, before pursuing the merger further in the legislature.
“It just seems to me you’re a long way from having made the case,” said Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, adding that he was still “persuadable.”
Stadlman said after the hearing that supporters would try to address the concerns of lawmakers and seek the endorsements of local groups.
About 60 Northwest Missouri State students were at the Capitol on Tuesday, but none testified on the bill in the Senate committee.
Student senate president Emily Dix said the group had no official position on the merger, although she personally supported it. Some students were concerned tuition or admission standards would rise as a result of the merger, she said. The university officials said neither of those would happen.
“The more informed students tend to be, the more in favor they are,” said Dix, a senior majoring in marketing and management.