A proposed bill in the Missouri House of Representatives that could tackle the issue of occupational diversity on the Board of Curators is one step closer to passing in the House after being referred to the Select Committee on Education.
House Bill 2179 states that no more than two curators within the same profession can be on the board at the same time. After three curators resigned in the last four months, the board is currently entirely comprised of lawyers.
If passed, the bill would affect all appointments made after Jan. 1, 2017. The bill also applies to the governing boards at nine other Missouri universities.
Rep. Don Rone, R-Portageville, proposed the bill after noticing a lack of occupational diversity among the Board of Curators and other boards in the state.
“I got to looking at all the boards — there’s three, maybe four of the four-year colleges in the state that have a multiple of lawyers on there, and when I say multiple, I mean over two,” Rone said. “And out of 48 board members in the state, 20 of them are lawyers. And I just said, ‘Well, that’s too many in one occupation.’”
Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, and Rep. Dean Dohrman, R-La Monte, are two of the bill’s four co-sponsors. They said issues regarding a lack of occupational diversity on the board came to light after race-related student protests by Concerned Student 1950 at MU culminated in the resignations of former UM System President Tim Wolfe and former Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin in November 2015.
“When this fall it appeared that there were some issues on the campus concerning things that the Board of Curators would be involved in, we noticed that every person had a legal background,” Dohrman said. “And that just brought it to light. And the bill sponsor and myself, we talked about it a little bit before it was filed, and we just think that the more perspectives you have on issues, probably the better off we are.”
The Missouri Senate has blocked Gov. Jay Nixon’s curator appointments before because of the high proportion of lawyers on the board, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune.
“I have nothing against lawyers,” Dohrman said. “It’s just when everybody’s a lawyer, thinking outside of the box may not be as possible as when you have people with different backgrounds and different ways of looking at a situation.”
The resignations of Ann Covington, Yvonne Sparks and David Steward left the board with six curators, all of whom hold legal positions. When all of the curator positions were last filled, Covington was the seventh of nine lawyers.
Rone, Dohrman and Basye all said the board needs to more accurately reflect the rest of the state. Only 0.68 percent of employed Missouri residents work in a legal occupation, according to the May 2014 Occupational Employment Statistics in Missouri from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“No one’s excluded, but it might be more representative of the makeup of the state as a whole, and I think it’s a very good idea actually,” Basye said.
But the board also lacks the representation and diversity in race or gender that is seen in the rest of the state. With Covington, Sparks and Steward, there were two racial minorities, and one-third of the board was female. After their resignations, five of the six remaining curators are male, and all six are white.
In Missouri, 16.5 percent of the state’s population is nonwhite, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Over 50 percent is female. There is currently no proposed legislation to diversify the board by race or gender, but Basye said it’s a possibility.
“That’s certainly something that could be put in, possibly as an amendment or something to that nature,” Basye said. “And this is not directed toward race or sex, it’s mainly a background type thing, an occupational thing.”
Rone also said there should be some minorities on the board, and he emphasized that the board should be more representative of MU’s schools and colleges as well.
“Not everybody that goes to Missouri goes to the law school,” Rone said. “We have (agriculture) people there, we have journalism people at the school, we have medical people at the school, they should have somebody on the board representing them instead of just, at one time, seven out of the nine lawyers.”
HB 2179 was sent to the Select Committee of Education on Feb. 16, which is the most recent action on the bill. If it passes through the committee, it will then go to Speaker Todd Richardson, who will determine if it goes to the floor, Rone said.
Rone is confident that the bill will pass in the House of Representatives, but he is less sure of the bill’s future in the Senate.
“I haven’t had any correspondence with senators about this bill, so I really don’t know what’s going to happen in the Senate,” Rone said.