Speck draws local support

The Board of Governors at Missouri Southern was presented with messages and signatures in support of University President Bruce Speck at its regular meeting last week.

Letters and e-mails from more than 20 local residents and businesses accompanied a petition with 25 signatures supporting Speck. Chief among the reasons listed for support of Speck: Southern’s increased role in the community.

Sandra Pommert, who was in attendance when Speck spoke during a lunch program at an area church, said in an interview with The Chart she’s never seen a school leader do as much for Southern as Speck.

“Dr. Speck is just everywhere drumming up support for the community and for that college,” Pommert said. “The college seemed an entirely separate entity for so many years.”

Karen Rutledge, owner of Karen Rutledge Insurance Agency, said the relationship between Southern and the Joplin community needed improvement before Speck arrived.

“He’s very proactive in his appearances on campus, at campus events and at community events,” Rutledge said. “I get the impression he is trying, sincerely trying, to build the relationships between the University and the community, which I don’t think have been the best over the years.”

Vince Lindstrom, Director of the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he has worked with other university presidents during his career, and Speck is as good as any he’s seen in terms of his relationship with the community.

“I’ve been in places where they don’t have anything to do with what goes on in the community,” Lindstrom said. “I’m just delighted we have somebody in that position who’s interested and wants to participate in the needs of the community.”

Another common reason residents and businesses listed for their support of Speck is the prospect of an osteopathic medical school being located on campus.

In a letter to Board Chairman Rod Anderson, Larry McIntire said Speck’s retention as president is of “paramount importance” in obtaining a medical school.

“I fear that his release would place this, and, quite possibly, other highly desirable projects, in great jeopardy,” McIntire wrote.

Rudy Farber, board chairman at Community Bank and Trust in Neosho, also cited the medical school in a letter to board member Dwight Douglas.

“Dr. Speck has been instrumental in the delicate negotiations with many parties that have led to this proposed partnership with Kansas City University of Medicine & Biosciences,” Farber’s letter said.

One Southern employee, Doug Carnahan, sent a two-page letter to the board. Carnahan, who serves as Assistant Vice President for Student Services, said the Board’s firing of Donald Darnton 30 years ago was a “huge mistake,” and he fears the Board could be making another one if Speck doesn’t stay at Southern.

“He’s simply facing incredible problems,” Carnahan wrote. “He’s had to make tough decisions.”

Carnahan also shot back at criticism of Speck, saying: “Yes, I’ve heard the rumors. He’s probably made some mistakes . . . sometimes singing songs that aren’t very funny or allowing his hair to be painted green at football games. How unpresidential. Oh my gosh.”

Other supporters simply offered short messages of encouragement for Speck.

“I am sorry for all the junk you are dealing with,” wrote Joplin mayor Gary Shaw in an email to Speck. “I have only known you a year, but I have the greatest respect for you and consider you my friend.”

Pedro Pantoja, a retired businessperson, told Speck in an email he had confidence in him, and wished him good luck.

“Remember; every morning when you are on front of the mirror, you should say, mirror, mirror on the wall, Bruce is the best of all,” Pantoja wrote.

Show of support?

Many people who spoke with The Chart considered the Board’s action last week a show of support for Speck. The Board finalized a contract extension with Speck and asked him to improve relations with faculty.

“It was definitely in favor of Dr. Speck,” Lionbacker Bob Oldt said.

Bill Gipson, President and Chief Executive Officer at Empire, said Speck is working diligently to accomplish what the Board has put before him.

“I certainly took it as a show of support from the Board in favor of Dr. Speck,” he said.