Legislative priorities, ‘Yours to Lose’ and other recent developments

Dear colleagues,

We’re already a few weeks into the spring semester. Classes are off to a great start and there are many positive things happening around campus and behind the scenes as we work to make Missouri Southern the regional destination of choice for higher education.

Reynolds Hall Annex

As you may have noticed, there’s a new building addition to our campus this semester in the nearly 13,000-square-foot Reynolds Annex, located on the southwest side of campus behind the Physical Plant. IMG_9821

The mobile classrooms were previously used by Joplin High School following the May 22, 2011, tornado. Last year, we purchased the units from the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) to use as a transition space as we begin the much-needed renovation of Reynolds Hall. Crews assembled the units into a very modern, convenient, and functional classroom and laboratory complex. The Annex also includes space for faculty offices (some are admittedly a bit small, so we certainly appreciate faculty accommodation of the inconveniences during the Reynolds renovation).

The Annex was completed over Christmas break, and I want to thank all those whose efforts made it possible for us to have the facility ready by the first day of the semester. Hopefully by this time next year, the third floor of Reynolds will be ready to use, and the Annex can continue to be utilized as we move on to other construction priorities.

Legislative Priorities

Those of you who attended the recent faculty kickoff meeting received a rundown of our current legislative priorities.

As you recall, our first is an increase in our base appropriations. We originally adopted the Coordinating Board recommendation of a 5-percent increase in our base operating funds plus a 2-percent increase for STEM programs. However, the Governor’s budget recommendation was for a 6% increase (with 1% tacitly expected to be directed to STEM programs). Accordingly, we are supporting the Governor’s recommendation, but as you also probably know the appropriation increase would come with the understanding that we would not raise tuition next year. But, this year our tuition increase would be limited to a paltry .007 due to very low inflation last year (that works out to only $47 per year for a full-time student). So, accepting the Governor’s recommendation and foregoing a tuition increase makes a lot of sense.

Our second priority is securing $3 million in base funding to bring a dental school to campus in cooperation with UMKC. Gov. Nixon has requested these funds from the General Assembly, which would allow us to begin renovations and make the necessary transitions regarding the Child Development Center, Taylor Education/Psychology building, and Julio S. León Health Sciences Center.

We have made a couple of trips to Jefferson City during the past two weeks and as a result our legislative delegation, along with the Governor’s Office, helped us secure 12,000 square feet of the Joplin Regional Center for the relocation of the Child Development Center. Additionally, Darren Fullerton and I were in a meeting that involved both the House and Senate leadership and representatives from the Governor’s Office where our $3 million for the dental school expansion was “positively and constructively” discussed.

Last, Dr. Brad Hodson and I testified before the House Appropriations Committee for Higher Education earlier this week and our dental school proposal was well received (along with our other priorities). The only comment was from the Committee Chair, asking if we would help advise other interested parties in starting a similar program in Southeast Missouri at some point in the future. We of course agreed.

The third priority is seeking $10 million to construct an addition to Reynolds Hall. With Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences opening a Joplin medical school campus in 2017, we’re anticipating an influx of pre-med students. Expanding Reynolds Hall would allow us to increase capacity and meet the needs of those students who are bound for medical school. Frankly, this one will be a tough lift with all the other needs around the state. And, we knew in the beginning that we are actually out of sync with the standard capital request timing, which is in the first regular session of the General Assembly (last year). However, we still believe it is important to put our needs in front of the people making the decisions… even if it happens to be next year.

Firearms on Campus

I also want to address the bills that have been proposed in the state legislature that would allow firearms to be carried on campus.

Along with other university presidents, I believe we should oppose these efforts. In my view the Board of Governors should have the authority to ban weapons on campus, if they so desire, and the proposal, in my opinion, would be an over-reach of state government.

My primary concern is one of campus safety. Firearms have been restricted from campus through Missouri Southern’s more than 75-year history. There has not been, to my knowledge, a single firearm-related injury in that time. But if students, visitors and others are allowed to carry on campus, I don’t know that we would be able to say that in the future.

‘Yours to Lose’

We recently formalized an agreement with our partners at Kansas City University that will benefit Missouri Southern students who plan to continue on to the new medical school. 23806824486_aa5971510e_z

The “Your to Lose – Advanced Medical School Acceptance Program” will allow up to 25 Missouri Southern students to be admitted to the med school at the same time they are accepted here at Missouri Southern. Dr. Paula Carson is working to implement some innovative curricular ideas that will prepare our students for the rigorous program that awaits them.

It’s an exclusive partnership that benefits both universities, and high schools in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma have already been tabbed as partner schools. It’s an exciting program that the lawmakers serving on the House Appropriations committee found fascinating. They are very supportive of public/private partnerships because it leverages state dollars and private investment for maximum impact.

NCAA Conference

Earlier this month, I traveled with Athletic Director Jared Bruggeman to the 2016 NCAA Convention in San Antonio. This is a required conference each year for university presidents, and it provides valuable information to consider in our athletics operations.

The major conversation at the conference centered on the well-being of our student-athletes, specifically in the realms of mental health and cardiac care. The NCAA is focusing on research and documentation of student-athlete health in both of these areas.

At Missouri Southern, we are already ahead of the curve in a number of ways. Our strength and conditioning coaches are required to have specific certifications that help them better train and protect the health of our students. We also perform physicals in order to screen for pre-existing heart conditions – a big focus area for the NCAA.

Board of Governors

I’d like to take a moment to welcome Anita Oplotnik to the Board of Governors. She was recently appointed by Gov. Nixon to serve a term ending Aug. 30, 2021.

It marks something of a homecoming for Anita, who graduated from Missouri Southern with her bachelor’s in business administration. In 2001, she was inducted into our Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Last month, she was named to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame’s Filbert Five – which honors former high school, college and professional basketball players. She is currently an investment manager for Morgan-Stanley Wealth Management.

We’re pleased to have her back among the Lion family to serve in a leadership capacity for our university.

Joplin Business Expo IMG_3019

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who helped staff our booth during the recent Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce Business Expo.

The theme this year was “Champions of Business,” and we certainly lived up to it. The scoreboard hanging above a faux basketball floor, popcorn, Bookstore gear and more helped to earn Missouri Southern – for the second year in a row – the People’s Choice Award.

Events such as these are an important outreach tool. They allow us to connect with alumni, students and parents who are helping their children decide where they want to continue their education. Making these personal connections and leaving visitors with a positive view of Missouri Southern is the goal, and this year was a slam dunk!

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Thank you for all that you do each day on behalf of our students!