Losing Southern’s niche

Institutions, businesses, and organizations know the value in creating a special niche that no one else occupies. There are hundreds of institutions of higher education. Each purports to educate students in succeeding in life. Every institution has a core curriculum that is the basis of that education. Every institution has a number of majors in various fields of study. The lines of demarcation between these institutions blur, and colleges and universities can all look the same. As students vie to attend institutions of higher learning, often times, there is no real catch, no real hook to encourage them to attend one over the other. Location and price often enter into the mix, but these can be overshadowed by a specific “hook”.

For the past 25 years, Missouri Southern State University has been on the forefront of that “hook” that creates a niche. Those “hooks” have changed over time, evolving with the feelings, economy, and the state of society. MSSU’s administration always felt the “pulse” of those feelings, trends, and state of the society. MSSU has always had a niche. As these trends changed, MSSU’s administration, being far-sighted, put in place policies that would keep MSSU at the forefront. Key to this dynamic movement was the transitions. Leaving in place those things that worked, and slowly phasing out those things that didn’t, while introducing new policies that reflected future trends. This was a strength of the administration.

Southern’s niche that has been the most successful has been the international mission. No institution can make that claim. What other institution in our area, or our state can boast of an international themed semester? MSSU is the only. We’ve created that niche. What other institution can boast of sending almost 5% of our students to study abroad? What other institution can boast of hosting a world-class event like the Missouri Southern International Piano Competition? What other institution can boast of a banner hung over Carnegie Hall while the winner of the MSIPC plays? Only Missouri Southern State University. If one looks to our immediate south, Crowder College is known nationwide for its research into alternative sources of energy. If a student wants to pursue his or her dream of finding that vehicle that can travel across country without using a drop of petroleum, then It is crucial that this type of thinking continues.

Today, we are faced with an erosion of that “niche”. Rather than that hook that will attract the students to a place like no other, we are headed to becoming a place like all others. We are becoming vanilla, we are merging into that blur of institutions that have no defining character. Someone once said that to succeed, find something that no one else does, and do it better than anyone else. Call it what you will, our “mission enhancement” was the creation of an international mission. The funding may have been used for other purposes, but that one overriding thought was that we’d become a bright, shining center in the middle of the United States, a place where people, citizens of the community, and indeed students could peer into the world. We were treated to the best pianists of the world, to the best scholars of the world, and travel to all parts of the world and with it, the ability to bring back ideas and concepts to our midwestern community. We were indeed fortunate. No amount of dollars, data, or numbers could describe the benefits. We were doing something that no one else did, and doing it better than anyone else.

We can’t let this go away! Don’t let it die! Be innovative! Break the mold! Stand up for the uniqueness of the University!

Sam ClaussenProfessor of Theatre