Forum urges MU to open civic discourse

Panelists said public dialogue will help the university’s mission.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:17 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 5, 2008

MU needs to start a dialogue with the people of Missouri to emphasize the value of higher education, panelists at the Chancellor’s Global Issues Forum said on Tuesday.

Richard Wallace, MU chancellor emeritus; Mel George, a former MU mathematics professor and interim chancellor; and Ron Turner, a former University of Missouri System executive vice president, presented points, posed questions and then facilitated discussions during the Higher Education in a Global Context Forum. The panelists addressed the problem of funding and breaching communications between the public and the university.

“This is not a time for PR gimmicks or an advertising campaign,” Turner said. “It’s time for a dialogue.”

Turner said the public and the university were deeply divided and that unity was needed to meet the university’s mission.

He said fee increases could not continue and that there needs to be a new compact between the public and higher education.

Turner asked the audience how MU could begin and sustain dialogue with Missourians.

“(The dialogue) must raise the question, ‘Who will speak for the higher education of the state?’ ” he said. “The people of Missouri should.”

This month, University of Missouri System President Elson Floyd hired an Associated Press reporter on sabbatical to gather information from people across the state of Missouri about how the UM system communicated. Panelists said the plans were unrelated.

“This is more than a single person listening (to the people of Missouri),” George said. “This is lots and lots of people with lots of conversations.”

George discussed how the university must shift the emphasis from itself to the learners.

“Whom should we help learn?” he said. “My answer is breathtakingly everyone.”

George addressed how the university teaches people throughout their lives through the people they educate. By teaching librarians, teachers, reporters and newscasters, he said, the university helps people learn in all walks of life.

“Unless we embrace that mission, we make it difficult to further cooperativeness,” George said.

Wallace discussed staying true to MU’s mission in the midst of budget cuts. This year, UM curators approved a 3.5 percent increase to reflect the rate of inflation, and the UM system saw no change in funds allotted to them for the 2006 fiscal year.

MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said the university was facing the budget cuts with the same approaches it has used in the past but is running out of ways to cut corners.

This is the second in the Chancellor’s Global Issues Forum series. The forums draw faculty and staff from various departments of the university to have an informal discussion of issues at hand. The first forum addressed the effects of the tsunami in Asia.

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