Name change advances in legislature

Virginia Fairchild

Senators say OK, now it’s time for the House to make its decision.

Members of the Senate voted on and passed Senate Bill 55, sponsored by Sen. Gary Nodler (R-Joplin), which would rename Missouri Southern State College to Missouri Southern State University-Joplin.

The name change bill proceeded through the Senate Chamber after members passed it 28 to 3 on Feb. 19. The three senators in opposition to SB 55, Nodler said, all had different reasons but mainly voted against the bill to protect area institutions from “competition.”

Nodler said, Sen. Ken Jacob (D-Columbia) wasn’t completely in support of the name change bill when it hit the Senate floor, but changed his mind and became a co-sponsor of the substitute bill following testimony heard in the chamber. Jacob filibustered Southern’s name change bill during the 2002 session after it passed the House.

Nodler said passing the name change bill was based largely on the role of the Senate majority leaders, who allowed the bill to have “substantial floor time.”

Rep. Bryan Stevenson (R-Joplin) said he is hoping to get Nodler’s bill, which he is sponsoring on the House side, through committees and back onto the House floor without any amendments.

If the bill is amended while in the House, it must return to the Senate or go to the Conference Committee for a compromise.

House Bill 39, which is the name change bill Stevenson and other area representatives sponsored, has been combined with the other name change bills in the House.

“Some people say by uniting you gain more support, more strength,” said College President Julio León, “but, also by combining you gain more detractors.”

Stevenson said the only obstacle he sees, for the passing of SB 55, is the possibility that Southwest Missouri State University’s name change will be attached.

“I am going to try my best to ensure that SMS doesn’t kill my bill by attaching to it,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson said if the Senate version goes through House committees and onto the floor without any amendments, he has the votes to pass it. Stevenson said (if approved), “The governor has no reason not to sign it.”

“We certainly are hoping that it (SB 55) will be the vehicle by which we get the name change,” León said.

During the four-and-a-half hour Senate debate, the original bill received some alterations, but all, Nodler said, will have a “positive impact on Southern.”

One of the new aspects of the bill would allow the College to offer cooperative graduate degrees in conjunction with other institutions of higher education. This means a Southern student, who attains a master’s degree from another institution taking courses at Southern would see both institutions’ names on the diploma. Nodler said, this substitute is identical in language to SB 56, a bill the senator also introduced.

Under another addition to the bill, Southern’s mission would be added to the list of institutions based on a statewide mission and governed by a board of governors versus a board of regents. An additional member will be added, making it a seven-person board. León said current members of the Board of Regents would finish would their terms. New members could be appointed from anywhere in Missouri. The College would retain its international education mission, having the state responsible for international education.

Also included in the bill is the requirement that Southern would abate all associate degree programs by July 21, 2008. These degrees can be continued with approval from the Coordinating Board for Higher Education. Nodler said,this new policy was part of the compromise established to pass this bill. Studies have been done to suggest that two-year degrees are associated with community colleges and technical schools, he said. So, to discard of the degree that associates with a college or two-year institution would be appropriate when changing Southern to a university.

“It’s not state policy; it’s just one of those things where some people believe that a university should not offer associate degrees, that that is the purpose of community colleges,” León said. “But, the fact is that there are many major research universities that offer Ph.Ds and associate degrees as well; the practice varies from state to state.”

This change, Nodler said, would benefit colleges surrounding Southern because it would enable them to inherit some of Southern’s two-year programs. The colleges would also be able to work together to offer other cooperative arrangements, Nodler said.

“The changes made under this bill will make Missouri Southern stronger, Crowder College would be stronger, in fact; the entire higher educational system will be made stronger,” Nodler said.

Some changes that were made to the original bill were done so to ensure its approval in the Senate.

“We felt that the name change to a university is very valuable to our institution, to our students, to the whole region,” León said. “In order to gain that, we had to give up something.”

He said the College may choose to retain some associate degrees that might be valuable to Southern students.

“So, a very good and important step forward has been taken,” León said in a campus wide e-mail Feb. 20. “There is still a good way to go.

“But, it’s exciting to think about the possibilities and the potential for us as a university.”