Rumor of Southern closure angers president

Jerry Manter

College President Julio León wasn’t too happy when he heard on the news that Missouri Southern would be closing its doors soon.

Catching the College community off guard, the story slowly circulated throughout the administration and eventually on to students.

It was everywhere. On the local news and in several newspapers scattered throughout Missouri was an eye-opening story about State Rep. Chuck Graham (D-Columbia) and his comments made at a University of Missouri-Columbia Alumni Association forum.

A story appearing in the Columbia Daily Tribune in Columbia reported that Graham said “a projected $1 billion budgeted shortfall might force the state to eliminate funding to Missouri Southern State College and Missouri Western State College.”

Graham continued in the story saying the two colleges were borderline in terms of what the state could afford to keep open last year. With a more serious budget dilemma this fiscal year, Graham said he didn’t know if the state could afford to keep Southern and MWSC open this year.

The day after the stories made headlines throughout the state, Graham was quick to respond to the stories regarding his strong statements.

“AP (Associated Press) got it wrong,” Graham said.

Graham, a democrat, serving Missouri’s 24th District, said a majority of his comments were taken out of context.

“If the republican majority is serious about cutting $1 billion…bad things will happen,” he said. “You can’t cut $1 billion and not touch education.”

Regardless if the information was false, León was upset about the comments.

“I was angry,” León said. “He did not have to name institutions when talking about budget cuts.”

León thought Graham was possibly trying to ease budget concerns for the major university in his district, the University of Missouri.

“It’s not helpful to name institutions,” León said. “It makes matters worse.”

The story in the Tribune reported Graham said the size and missions of Southern and MWSC placed them on the fringes of the state’s higher-education system, and that the institutions would therefore be the most viable targets for reducing what the state spends on higher education.

Mike Stevenson, sophomore speech communications major, heard the rumor that was quick to fill the campus.

“I heard a representative say that two schools were unnecessary,” Stevenson said, “and one of them was Missouri Southern.”

Having employees and students talk about the rumor was frustrating for León. It was the last thing he wanted during the first week of classes.

“He should have not said that,” León said “It’s not appreciated.”

Facing one of the most complicated financial crisis in the College’s history, León said even though the state is dealing with a possible $1 billion education cut, he wants to make one thing clear to employees, students, parents and everyone throughout the state.

“This College will not close,” he said. “The institution will never close.”

       State News Editor Ginia Fairchild contributed to this story.