The latest tug in the war over a controversial name change came Monday when Gov.-elect Matt Blunt said he would support legislation to change the name of Southwest Missouri State University.
Comments by a Blunt spokesman came a few days after leaders of SMSU and the University of Missouri system met to discuss an SMSU proposal seeking the system’s support in changing SMSU’s name to Missouri State University.
Spokesman Spence Jackson said the incoming governor thinks SMSU deserves the name change.
“(Blunt) just believes that SMS has earned the right to be called Missouri State because of its success over the years at attracting students from all over the state,” Jackson said. “It would just be good for the students.”
Late last week, John Keiser, president of Southwest Missouri State University, and Elson Floyd, president of the University of Missouri system, met privately in Kansas City to discuss Keiser’s proposal to change the name of SMSU to Missouri State University.
His proposal, “Intent to Collaborate: A Five-Point Initiative,” offers an outline that would create collaborative programs between SMSU and the UM system if the system agrees to publicly support changing the name. A request to change the name will again come before lawmakers when they meet in January.
The proposal states that the name change would be consistent with Blunt’s “call for change.”
Few UM system officials were willing to speak about the proposal Monday.
Although Floyd has not spoken publicly about the issue, Keiser said that when they met last week, Floyd indicated he would take the proposal into consideration. Keiser said the proposal is meant to facilitate collaboration that would benefit both SMSU and the UM system.
“I really don’t see why the University of Missouri would be threatened by a name change,” he said. “We think the state would benefit.”
Under the proposal, which can be read in full at www.columbiamissourian.com, SMSU would develop programs to complement those now offered in the UM system.
Right now, MU and SMSU have cooperative graduate programs in fields such as education leadership, library science and agriculture. Keiser envisions more cooperative programs for students at all UM and SMSU campuses.
His proposal outlines how SMSU and the system would work to secure more state money for their institutions and search for solutions to make higher education in the state more affordable.
The UM system has four campuses, including its flagship in Columbia. SMSU has three campuses in Missouri and a branch campus in Dalian, China. Its main campus is in Springfield.
State Sen.-elect Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, said he did not like the way Keiser presented the name-change proposal.
“I’ll fight it with every breath I have,” Graham said.
Graham campaigned on the issue in November, saying he would not allow SMSU to change its name because it would be detrimental to MU and the state as a whole.
“We do not have enough money in this state to create a second flagship campus, and that is what they yearn and strive to be,” he said
Graham also said he is opposed to the possible collaboration between SMSU and the UM System.
“It is not exactly collaboration that they are proposing,” Graham said. “They are proposing identity theft.”
UM system spokesman Joe Moore said he could not comment on the matter but did say that Elson Floyd and the governing UM Board of Curators have not taken any position on Keiser’s proposal. MU spokesman Christian Basi said it was premature to comment on the issue, as well, adding that MU Chancellor Brady Deaton was not available.
Curator Sean McGinnis said he did not anticipate a vote on the matter at the next curators’ meeting on Feb. 3.
“This is an issue that, to date, has not been a priority for the curators,” McGinnis said. “We have been more worried about more substantive issues such as the budget and the rise of tuition because of state budget cuts, as opposed to dealing with parochial interests such as name changes.”
McGinnis said he would not comment further on the proposal because he had not seen it.
This month, state Rep. B.J. March, R-Springfield, filed legislation that would change the name of SMSU to Missouri State University. SMSU has been trying to change its name to Missouri State for at least 15 years and, according to Keiser’s proposal, a change this year would coincide with SMSU’s centennial celebration.
Keiser said SMSU supports the name change because it would better reflect the school’s diversity and international reach. He added that the proposal is not an attempt to strong arm the UM system — which, Moore said, has not taken a position on the name change.
“The proposal that we gave is just to indicate, ‘Hey, look, we ought to be talking about cooperative ways to deliver education effectively,’ ” Keiser said. He said cooperation also would benefit the system in other areas.
“I think we’ve all got other kinds of issues that cooperation would work on as well, like capping student fees and the need to bring the state budget up to where it was in 2001,” Keiser said.
However, Todd McCubbin, assistant vice chancellor for UM alumni relations, said the state cannot afford to add another tier to the higher education funding formula.
“What we have is a funding issue that creates another level of funding that the state can not afford right now,” McCubbin said. “That is a decision that lawmakers have to make, not me, but you can see that with the fiscal shape that our state is in, we could not afford that.”