Candidates for the 19th District seat in the Missouri Senate are embroiled in a debate about whether it’s a good idea to “trade” MU’s name for a bond issue that would pay for construction of a health-sciences research center and other projects.
Democrat Chuck Graham and Republican Mike Ditmore debated the issue at a forum last month at Broadway Christian Church. Moderator and former state senator Joe Moseley asked whether each would support switching the name of Springfield’s Southwest Missouri State University to Missouri State University in exchange for a life-sciences bond issue.
Ditmore, a strong supporter of the bond issue, said that while he doesn’t support a name change or a trade, “If I had to do it, I would do it.”
Graham criticized his response, saying, “I’m not willing to sell our heritage, our tradition, our name, our status and our flagship, and the day you trade that is the day you create more competition for resources. … I’m not willing to trade it for a one-time appropriation.”
Earlier this year, 19th District state Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, reached a deal with Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, that would allow SMSU’s name change only if the General Assembly approved a $190 million bond package. The package called for building a health-sciences research center at MU and renovating the Engineering East Building, along with other life-sciences projects across the UM system.
Jacob, knowing the bond issue would garner little support because it would benefit only UM schools, agreed to the deal and ended his filibuster. As the legislation progressed, however, other schools began to add projects of their own to the bond issue, expanding its potential cost to about $372 million. Ditmore said Kinder allowed this in order to gain more votes.
The bill died in the Senate. In the House, representatives voted against a bill exclusively for the name change. Graham gave himself, 23rd District state Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia and other legislators credit for changing “the hearts and minds” of colleagues.
Graham said he thinks the bond issue will come up again, but he noted that UM officials have not outlined a new proposal. He said renovation of the Engineering East Building already is being done internally at a cost of about $20 million.
Both Graham and Ditmore support construction of a health-sciences research center, but it is Ditmore’s willingness to allow the name change in exchange for the center that Graham criticizes. The issue was debated again at an Oct. 8 forum sponsored by the Associated Students of the University of Missouri.
“Mike, last week you said you would trade that name for the bonding issues. We can get the bonding issues done on our own,” Graham said. He argued that if a name change does occur, the Springfield school would want “everything from this campus,” including a veterinary, law and medical school.
“I’m not going to trade away anything,” Ditmore said. “I’m going to keep my eye focused on the ball, what’s important to the University of Missouri, long term.”
Ditmore said he thinks if the legislature passes a bond issue, Graham’s criticism of the name change — that resources will be diverted from MU — becomes irrelevant.
“Once we get those institutions in place, no one is going to buy those from us because it is going to be too important to the state for us to move them or change them,” he said.
He also countered Graham’s arguments by saying there was a clause in the legislation that would prohibit SMSU from duplicating programs. Ditmore acknowledged the school might try to gain the programs anyway, but he said it is the job of other legislators to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“I think that we have to realize that politics is the art of the possible,” Ditmore said. “And last year we lost the bonding issue, which was extremely important, and we could have been building a new health-sciences center by this time had that passed.”