Med school rumor resurfaces

Graham brings up a possible move on the campaign trail, but others dismiss it.
Wednesday, October 27, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:11 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Although the possibility of the MU School of Medicine being moved to Kansas City was dismissed by curators and UM system President Elson Floyd more than a year ago, the topic has risen again in a local campaign.

Chuck Graham, the Democratic candidate for 19th District state senator, typically introduces himself at forums as a candidate who has stood strong against “billion-dollar interests in Kansas City who have tried to steal our medical school.” He promises to “kill” the nomination of any curator who supports the move and to fight against possible future proposals.

Graham’s opponent, Republican Mike Ditmore, is also making the move an issue in his campaign.

“I think there certainly are interest groups in K.C. who would like to move the medical school to K.C. … Do I think they’ll try to do it again? I suspect so,” he said.

In January, the governor will appoint three curators, subject to Senate approval. Graham said that if the three new members support a move, it would take only two other members on the nine-person board to vote favorably for a move to happen.

But both candidates for governor oppose the move, and curators say it’s unlikely the move will be discussed again.

“No way,” Curator Marion Cairns of Webster Groves said, cutting off a reporter’s questions about a possible move. “There have been no recent discussions, absolutely no conversation toward that area.”

Glenn Campbell, spokesman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Claire McCaskill, said the school is essential in providing “good, stable health care for mid-Missouri.” “There is no indication that the school is going to move … nor is there support,” he said.

Matt Blunt, the Republican candidate for governor, has also said he opposes such a move.

Board of Curators President Mary James of Harrisonville said she doesn’t know of any discussions since September 2003, when the move was introduced as a possibility following rumors that curators were holding preliminary discussions.

At that time Floyd, then-MU Chancellor Richard Wallace and medical school dean William Crist all released statements reassuring the public that the medical school would not move.

“Dr. Floyd has said the medical school is staying here, and he has said it several times,” UM spokesman Joe Moore said. “There is really nothing else to be said about it.”

Moore emphasized that the curators never brought the issue up for a vote.

New MU Chancellor Brady Deaton at a recent news conference simply replied “no” when asked whether a move was possible.

“We feel very secure about that issue,” he said.

Bill Neaves, who has been reported to be the broker for the proposal last year and president and chief executive officer of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, declined to comment.

Nick Benassi, the Kansas City director of governmental relations for the UM system, commented through UMKC spokeswoman Amanda Denning, writing in an e-mail that “President Floyd has said repeatedly that moving the medical school is not an option and it will not happen.”

At a Rotary Club forum earlier this month, Ditmore accused Graham of taking undue credit for the medical school remaining in Columbia. Graham convened a panel discussion on the issue in January.

“My opponent likes to say he kept the medical school here, but I point out to you that that decision was made by the curators and the president of the system prior to the photo op,” Ditmore said, referring to Graham’s meeting.

Graham’s response was, “I never said I kept it here. I said I’ve been fighting to keep it here.”

Ditmore supports a bond issue that would build a health sciences research center at MU and says the center would make it impossible to move the medical school elsewhere.

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