The phrase “Missouri State University” weighed on many minds at a legislative forum hosted by the Boone County chapter of the MU Alumni Association on Thursday night.
Six local legislators were on hand at the Stoney Creek Inn to discuss issues related to higher education, ranging from the proposed name change of Southwest Missouri State University to Gov. Matt Blunt’s plans to increase education funding.
The state legislature has been debating the name change each session since 2002. Many local legislators are worried that removing the “Southwest” from SMSU will give the school more latitude to request state funds. They also say there is a historical significance associated with the name “Missouri State University,” because it is inscribed in the capitol building as a reference to MU.
Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, spoke at length about stopping the name change.
“It’s not just about a name,” he said. “They’re trying to get a name that’s prestigious. This is part of a long-term strategy to build a second system in the state.”
Graham said SMSU governors have initiated the process to patent the name Missouri State University.
“They are brazen and will stop at nothing,” he said. “It’s a crying shame that kids who tour the state capitol will see the words ‘Missouri State University’ and think, ‘That’s my school in Springfield.’”
The legislators also addressed the changes proposed in Blunt’s State of the State address on Wednesday. The governor proposed cutting back Medicaid in order to put more money into education. Although MU needs state funding in order to keep programs affordable, Graham said University Hospital depends on programs such as Medicaid to pay for many patients treated at the center .
“Medicare cuts affect the hospital,” Graham said. “We made great strides in the last year getting that place from red to black.”
Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, said an ability to generate revenue was the reason for the hospital’s budget recovery. However, she said, revenue would not be generated if there is uncompensated care.
The legislators also said Blunt’s increases in education funding would have little effect on higher education in the state. Rather, Rep. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, said the allocated funding for higher education is “flat.” MU isn’t losing funds, but new money is not included in the budget .
“Flat is backwards,” Shoemyer said. “It is not moving forward, in the right direction. Tuition is now supporting more of the budget than the state is committing to you. You can only recover with a tuition increase, which is not improving the health of anybody.”
Shoemyer’s comments were contrary to a prepared statement released on Thursday by MU President Elson Floyd.
“Given the funding problems facing most areas of state government, a flat appropriation is good news for public higher education,” Floyd said.