JEFFERSON CITY - University of Missouri faculty would have voice at next year's Board of Curators meetings under a measure approved by the House.
The House gave preliminary approval Thursday (April 3) to a measure to allow a faculty representative to participate in curators' meetings.
The bill says the governor may appoint a representative to a two year term on the board. On a rotating basis, each university would have an opportunity to send a full-time faculty member to the governing board's meetings. However, the faculty representative could not vote on matters considered by the board.
If the legislation is approved, the first two year term would be filled by a faculty member on the Columbia campus.
Though in past years the legislature has debated bills to give an administrative voice to students and faculty members, this bill is unique because it would give student and faculty representatives the right to take part in closed door sessions.
The board would have to vote unanimously to exclude student and/or faculty representatives from closed meetings. But, under this legislation, the power of the curators to exclude the representatives expires in August of 2000.
Though the bill moved on, by way of voice vote, to final consideration by the House before the session ends in May, there was a healthy amount of criticism and concern about the proposal in Thursday's debate.
"The bill reflects a power struggle between the board, faculty and students," said Rep. Jewell Patek, R-Chillicothe "And there are many interests besides faculty and students that we do not take into consideration. I think the (current) system works and we shouldn't interfere."
Opponents of the bill submitted several amendments intended to make it more difficult for student and faculty representatives to take part in closed door sessions.
Proposed amendments which were hotly debated but eventually defeated would have allowed the curators to exclude faculty and student representatives from closed meetings with a simple majority vote. In one amendment, it would take only one-third of the curators to vote to exclude representatives from the closed session.
"In my opinion, there is an unnatural fear of people hearing about something," said the bill sponsor Ted Farnen, D-Mexico.
Closed door sessions, which now exclude students, faculty, reporters and the public, are intended for discussions about sensitive personnel and property matters of the university. Farnen's bill would essentially stretch the Missouri "sunshine" laws regarding public access to open and closed meetings beyond its current limits with regard to the Board of Curators.
"What is it that you are afraid of when it comes to the participation of faculty members and students in closed meetings?" Wilson asked Rep. Chuck Gross, R-St. Charles. Gross was the sponsor of an amendment to limit the functions of the student and faculty representative to open sessions, such as the current role of the nonvoting student curator.
Gross replied that his main concern was that if a student and faculty representative is allowed to sit in on closed meetings, there would be overwhelming pressure to breech the required confidentiality on personnel and property matters. However, the bill specifically states that confidentiality rules and laws apply equally to all members and representatives on the board.
Wilson argued that for over 10 years, since a student representative has interacted directly with the MU Board of Curators, there has never been a breach of confidentiality.
When asked by Gross whether she would ever support legislation to give voting power to a student representative, Wilson said it would be a matter she would seriously consider. The state constitution would have to be amended in order to give voting powers to any representative beyond the nine board members.