MU’s position as the flagship of the state’s public institutions will not be altered by the Southwest Missouri State University name change, Chancellor Brady Deaton said. However, this flagship position could be threatened if people interpret the change as competition for MU’s status.
Deaton said he is confident that legislators tailored the bill in a manner to ensure MU’s status as the flagship institution in Missouri. He views the issue as one of public policy for the state.
“It’s a debate about higher education in the state of Missouri, and I am very confident that as the legislature looks at this, they will take into consideration the impact that the name change would have on other four-year universities and two-year institutions in the state as well,” Deaton said Monday. “We have to be committed to maintaining the strong, aggressive flagship role that we’ve played historically. We don’t feel the role is challenged in any way, by any discussion of the name change.”
Although Deaton said he does not think the legislation challenges MU’s role in Missouri’s higher education, he recognizes interpretation of the name change may threaten MU’s position and state funds. A recent accreditation study by the North Central Association’s Higher Learning Commission said that MU needs to be concerned about the effects of this legislation.
“So, as the leader of this campus, I feel it’s my responsibility to call that issue to the attention of our president, to the legislature and to others — and we have done that,” Deaton said.
Even with the legislation’s new restrictions for SMSU — such as ensuring SMSU will not become a land-grant university — there remain concerns for how the name change may play out in the future for Missouri’s higher education.
“I think, looking forwardly, we have to make sure that our legislature and the public at large clearly understand the very critical role we play for the future of Missouri,” Deaton said. “There simply is no substitute for MU. We’re the dominant research campus among higher education public institutions in the state.”
Deaton said that MU and Washington University conduct 90 percent of the research taking place in Missouri.
“The future of our state in terms of job creation, knowledge development, ensuring that the students in this state have a bright future in a global market — our campus ensures that more than any other campus in the state of Missouri,” he said.
There are also fears this legislation may have budget implications in the future resulting in less state funding for MU.
“The main issue is that it’s at a time when the state can barely afford to fund one flagship university, so to suggest that they’re undertaking another mission with another university that could require more resources sends a signal that we think is inappropriate,” Deaton said.
Deaton said he recognizes the concerns of alumni about the name change possibility and how it will affect the stature of MU, mainly because of MU’s historical association with the name Missouri State University and by the message the name change might send.
“Alumni are deeply concerned about the name change because they feel it sends a signal that is not in the best interest of Mizzou,” Deaton said. “There’s a historical issue of credibility that our alumni are concerned about.
“More importantly, they have a deep devotion to the quality of this institution, and they don’t want to see a public signal given that there is any other competitive university in the state that has the stature, the status, the prestige, not to mention the history of higher education,” he said.
Considering the fears and concerns associated with name change legislation, Deaton doesn’t deny SMSU the right to have a name that makes it proud.
“We’re very proud of our name, which is why the alumni feel so strongly about the Missouri State University name and feel it’s associated with our university historically — we ought to be able to retain that historical connection,” Deaton said. “Names have emotional content. Every university should have a name they are proud of, and I don’t think our alums are opposed to name changes generally.”