Missouri Southern suspends intern program



The State Capitol building in Jefferson City houses the legislative and executive branches of the state government. This spring marks the first time in over 25 years that Missouri Southern interns will not participate.

On the heels of the sexting scandal that rocked the State House in Jefferson City last April, Missouri Southern has decided not to send legislative interns to the Capitol for the first time in over 25 years. The University has temporarily suspended the program while the House overhauls its sexual harassment and internship procedures including changes requiring a panel to approve university-sponsored intern programs.

“We weren’t convinced it was the best environment for our students until things get worked out there,” said Dr. Richard Miller, dean of arts and sciences and director of the Capitol intern program. “The Legislature is establishing ethic guidelines and training, and we didn’t want to have our students involved in the middle of that, so our feeling was that we’ll sit out one year. We talked to our legislators, and they supported our decision with the intent that we will go back next year once their new policies are in place.” 

Missouri House Speaker John Diehl, a Republican, the married father of three and arguably the second most powerful man in the state, resigned last May after admitting to a sexual relationship with then 19-year-old Southern freshman Katie Graham, who was in the Capitol intern program. Southern was forced to end last year’s program a month prematurely after the scandal erupted and days before pages of lurid text messages between Diehl and Graham were circulated online.

“We had no idea this was going on [but] when we heard the rumors, we decided to get involved and determine the validity of the allegations … things happened very quickly,” said Miller. “Our interns have been highly received and respected, and what happened last year was an unfortunate situation. I don’t think it’s a reflection of our internship program as much as it is something that happened up there that could truly happen in Joplin anytime you have a supervisor over college students.” 

In past years, the intern program has provided a chance for Southern students to work closely with legislators and gain firsthand knowledge of how government works. The interns lived together in Jefferson City and worked 40 hours a week at the Capitol, getting eight credit hours and valuable experience in exchange. 

“I strongly support the Missouri Capitol internship program, and hope it remains a positive experience for other students in the future,” said Graham, who currently attends Pittsburg State. 

“Taking this semester off is a very good idea; we needed to come up with some better guidelines of how we operate the program,” said University President Alan Marble. “I’ve heard talk around the Capitol about coming up with a liaison who works at in the Assembly that will help supervise interns, which will probably be a good thing. I’m not opposed to sending interns back. I think that we have some procedural things that we need to do better, and we need to keep an eye on happenings in Jefferson City and see that they do things better too, so taking a little time off for all of us isn’t a bad idea.”