SMSU fears absorption

Ken Jacob

Ken Jacob

Virginia Fairchild

One Missouri senator is working to push Southwest Missouri State University into the University of Missouri system.

Sen. Ken Jacob (D-Columbia) has proposed legislation that would make SMSU the fifth campus in the University of Missouri system. He said he believes the idea of changing SMSU’s name to Missouri State University would imply it had “aspirations” of becoming a statewide institution.

Jacob said in the past when universities have wanted to become a state institution, lawmakers have incorporated them into the MU system to sustain efficiency.

Jim Baker, assistant to SMSU President John Keiser, said SMSU is not interested in becoming part of the system.

“It would hurt the overall competition for students to have a choice of what prices to pay,” he said.

Incorporating the university would cause a “monopoly” in the Missouri Higher Education system, which could make negative repercussions for students, he said.

Baker said the overall feeling from the university’s Board of Governors is that Jacob is using this bill to divert attention away from the university’s attempt at changing its name.

SMSU does not meet the Coordinating Board for Higher Education’s guidelines on changing an institution’s name, Jacob said. If the university wants to change its name to Missouri State, it would have to be governed by a statewide board.

“They want to keep a regional board with a name that reflects an aspiration rather than reality,” Jacob said. “Missouri State connotates a statewide function and MU is governed by nine curators that come from each congressional district; so it would have statewide governance.”

Students should be aware when they are applying to an institution of what the university offers and changing the name would give a false impression of what it offers, he said.

“The thing that doesn’t make sense to me is to make a cosmetic name change without any educational purpose,” Jacob said. “I think Springfield, being the third largest city in the state, may have a need for expanded educational opportunities.

“By incorporating them into the system, it would elevate their status by six levels. The prestige of the institution will be dramatically increased.”

“I have not heard anyone give a reason on how this would be a benefit to higher education in the state of Missouri,” said Sen. Norma Champion (R-Springfield).

Champion said she doesn’t know how serious Jacob is on his proposal, but she has a low opinion of it.

Sarah Blankenship, junior nursing major at SMSU, agrees. She said she believes the benefits that would come with incorporating the university into the MU system would not be worth it.

“It’s a terrible idea; I like everything just the way it is,” Blankenship said. “Competition is good.”

Southwest Missouri President John Keiser has been open with his disapproval of Jacob’s bill.

In a Feb. 22 article by the Associated Press, Keiser referred to the incorporation attempts as a “hostile takeover.”

“I think those remarks are very inappropriate for an employee to tag to those who are ultimately his employer,” Jacob said.

He said he holds no hostile feelings toward Keiser but believes that having a “dogmatic” approach to his idea will stifle the ability to discuss it thoroughly.

“He ought to bring an openness to ideas because that is what education is all about,” Jacob said. “Keiser doesn’t own that institution. He’s an employee; he’s one of our employees.

“Employees can come and go.”

Backing by his fellow senators is still up in the air, Jacob said.

“Generally ideas take a while to sink in here,” Jacob said.

“I think when people are negative toward new ideas it does create the environment for discussion, and that’s probably the case right now.”

Sen. Gary Nodler (R-Joplin) said he believes Jacob is sincere in his efforts to incorporate SMSU into the university’s system, but doesn’t see much promise in the passage of the bill.

“I don’t agree with it,” Nodler said, “and I don’t think he has the votes to pass it.”