[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting to correct errors.]
Although it appears the bill allowing Southwest Missouri State University to drop the “Southwest” from its name will clear the Senate today, it has a long way to go in the House of Representatives.
Members of Boone County’s delegation in the House oppose the name change and said Tuesday they were unsure how it would work its way through the lower chamber.
Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia and House minority leader, expects the bill to get a fair amount of play in the House. He opposes the name change on principle but said he might be willing to negotiate for legislation favoring the University of Missouri System.
“As an opponent of the name change but supporter of higher education, I wish the supporters would turn their focus to funding education and seeking higher accessibility to college,” Harris said.
Reps. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, Ed Robb, R-Columbia, and Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico, also said they oppose the name change. Baker said she’s unwilling to tack legislation favoring UM onto the bill because “the name change is a big enough issue in itself.”
Hobbs said he’s willing to keep an open mind and noted the disparate opinions in the 21st District he represents.
“Last year, I was at a chamber of commerce dinner in Mexico, and the mayor of Mexico told me he was a Southwest graduate. (He) pointed to me and told me to make sure the name gets changed. Then, the president of the chamber, who’s an MU grad, told me to make sure the name doesn’t get taken away.”
Robb said the real issue is larger than the name change.
“The more important issue is funding. The Coordinating Board (for Higher Education) has not done a very good job of keeping universities from duplicating their missions. It’s caused a real drain on state resources.”
The House won’t get the chance to debate the bill unless and until it wins final approval from the Senate in a vote scheduled for today. That vote comes after senators voted 23-7 early Tuesday morning to perfect the bill.
The debate marked the Senate’s first all-night filibuster in 20 years. The logjam broke when UM President Elson Floyd offered his blessing to the amended bill and encouraged state Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, and other opponents to stand down. The vote came about 6:30 a.m. after a nearly 14-hour session.
Joe Moore, UM director of media relations, said the process is far from over.
“I couldn’t speculate what’s going to happen next,” he said. “There is still a ways to go.”
The amended bill would place several restrictions on Missouri State University. It would be unable to duplicate professional programs offered by UM, prohibited from seeking the land-grant status and research designations UM holds and unable to receive more state money as a direct result of the name change. It would be able to offer engineering and doctoral programs with UM’s cooperation.
Floyd offered similar proposals at a meeting of the UM Board of Curators this month.
“This is legislative language that we have agreed to,” he said. “It was drafted in recognition of the political realities that we currently face.”
SMSU President John Keiser thanked Floyd for his cooperation.
“I know he has taken heat, and he will (continue to) because of his agreement to this from alumni,” Keiser said. “What he has done has strengthened UM and the state, and we’re thankful for that.”
Graham was unavailable for comment Tuesday. His chief of staff, Ted Farnen, said he disapproved of the push to decide on the amendment in the middle of the night.
“We felt that was a very unfortunate way to further higher education,” he said.
In a news release Tuesday morning, Gov. Matt Blunt said he was happy with the Senate’s approval of the bill.
“Changing the name of SMS to Missouri State University better reflects the school’s diverse and expanding missions and its commitment to providing a superior education,” Blunt said. “I will continue to work with lawmakers in the days and weeks ahead to ensure that this important piece of legislation reaches my desk.”
Opponents of the name change in Columbia have been vocal. Todd McCubbin, executive director of the MU Alumni Association, said that group continues to oppose any institution having the name Missouri State University.
Greg Chase, executive board member of the legislative network committee for the Alumni Association, organized a protest trip to the Capitol for students Tuesday evening. Chase said before the trip that he expected a good showing.
“It’s hard for our students,” Chase said. “They can call and e-mail, but I think it’s a great tool to bring them down and show the senators that we are concerned.”
Missourian reporter Laura Hammargren contributed to this report.