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!

Springing into Summer

As the spring semester draws to a close, I wanted to take a few moments to update you regarding issues that are important to the Lion family.

KCU Medical School 

Like me, you’ve probably followed with great interest the announcement that the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences (KCU) will open a Joplin campus in August 2017. The campus will be located in Mercy’s former component hospital and will enroll 150 students per year.

KCUMB will open in 2017 in Mercy's former component hospital.
KCU will open in 2017 in Mercy’s former component hospital.

The arrival of KCU will undoubtedly put added pressure on our science programs and the already overcrowded Reynolds Hall. But, I think we should view this as a long-term positive for us because Missouri Southern is already well known for an exceptionally high caliber pre-med program, and the arrival of a new medical school will only strengthen our reputation and help attract ultra high-performing students.

An analysis by the National Community Development Services Inc., on behalf of the Joplin Medical School Alliance, estimates that Missouri Southern and Pittsburg State will enroll a projected 700 additional students in the pre-med fields. So, we not only need the $5.2 million in Maintenance and Repair funding currently being debated in the Missouri General Assembly… we also need to be contemplating a targeted capital campaign for the expansion of Reynolds Hall. Stay tuned!

Legislative Update 

As you recall, the Governor’s budget recommendation back in January called for a very small 1.3% increase for higher education next year, the House of Representatives recommended 1.9%, and the Senate passed a 3% increase. However, the Conference Committee reverted back to the original 1.3%.

To make matters worse for MSSU, we were only granted credit for meeting 4 out of 5 performance funding measures. The measure we were penalized for missing concerned financial accountability and keeping tuition below the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The confounding part of the calculation used by the Department is that they somewhat randomly use data from the 2011-12 academic years. And, this happens to be the year when the Department granted a waiver for the additional tuition increase due to the devastating tornado.

To make the situation even less defensible, the idea of performance funding had not been addressed in 2011-12, so calculating a future penalty could not be contemplated. Nonetheless, after months of futile protest the Department concluded that our increase will be limited to 0.95% next year as a result of meeting only 4 out of 5 performance funding measures.

This disappointing increase will make budgeting very tricky going forward, but it does make a strong argument for a significant tuition increase to replace lost state funding (even if a waiver is denied and we are forced to pay the one-time penalty of 5% of our appropriation). Again, stay tuned!

Reynolds Hall (legislative update #2)

As of this writing, HB19 is rapidly moving through the Senate and appears to be on its way to the Governor’s desk for signing (of course, there could still be unforeseen circumstances arise that serve to torpedo the bill).

However, the pleasant surprise is that not only does HB19 contain the $5.2 million we requested for maintenance and repair, it also contains the $1.5 million we requested in “50/50 money” (which would require a $1.5 million local match from private donations). So, in total we could end up with $8.2 million for the renovation of Reynolds Hall! And, we are very confident the matching dollars can be raised from our very supportive donor base.

Keep your fingers crossed that this one makes it through the legislative process unscathed and is signed into law by the Governor.

Great Game of Education 

We continue to move forward with the Great Game of Education and the desire to creatively use open-book management here at Missouri Southern. GGOE_Combo

The Design Team recently held its final meeting to work on putting together a University Council (UC). The UC will essentially be our “top-level” huddle that will represent the campus for this initiative.

I’ll be working with the President’s Council to help establish the UC and plan our first Great Game huddle for the fall.

We’re also continuing to send representatives from campus to train with our Great Game of Business friends in Springfield. Because we’ve had people step forward, we’ll soon be able to begin offering “train the trainer” workshops here on campus, so that those who have already become acquainted with the Great Game concepts can talk to others about MiniGames, the scoreboard, critical number, etc.

Jeff Gibson and Scott Cragin continue to work on the top level university scoreboard – which will allow all of our employees to go line-by-line to see the revenue and expense components that affect Operating Cash (our critical number).

We’re on the ground floor of the Great Game of Education and all of us have a voice and vested interest in Missouri Southern’s future. It will take all of us to implement it effectively and reach a more sustainable future, so be ready to “get in the game.”

You can find updates and more information about the Great Game of Education at www.mssu.edu/offices/president/ggoe/.

Faculty Handbook 

The proposed update to the faculty handbook recently passed a vote of the faculty and I want to thank everyone who made the commitment to address these much-needed revisions by serving on the Oversight Committee: Grace Ayton, Lorinda Hackett, Brian Nichols, Scott Wells, Wendy McGrane, Joy Dworkin, Michael Garoutte, Crystal Lemmons and Al Cade.

This was a huge undertaking and those mentioned above deserve credit for making it happen.

The revised handbook will go to the Board of Governors for consideration during their next meeting, scheduled for June 4.

Money Matters 

In my last column, I mentioned that we need to begin considering a substantial tuition increase for 2016-17.

One of the areas that has been impacted by the restricted state appropriations and limited tuition increases has been our ability to offer salary increases to our valued employees. A tuition increase would allow us to do more in this area, in addition to being better able to serve our student body.

Please know that you and your contributions to Missouri Southern are extremely valuable and that the administration is working tirelessly to find solutions that help our university in the long term and ensure that your contributions are rewarded.

ITS Friday 

Finally, I recently mentioned the desire to create a monthly event showcasing a presentation by a different member of the faculty – an idea that came from a conversation with the Faculty Senate’s executive committee. But, it was never intended to be an exclusive event … faculty and staff members are all welcome. So, if I offended anyone with the previous title I sincerely apologize.

The “TED Talk”-style events will be open to all university employees, and will be an opportunity for social interaction and intellectual stimulation. We’re moving forward with plans to launch “ITS Friday” for the fall semester, and I hope you all will join us.

Yes, it is pronounced “It’s Friday,” but the apostrophe is purposely omitted because the letters ITS represent an acronym … but you have to attend the first meeting next fall to see what the letters stand for.

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As always, thank you for all that you do on behalf of our students and the University. I hope everyone has a wonderful summer break!