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UM merger with Northwest put on hold until next session

April 24, 2003
By: Heather J. Carlson
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - University of Missouri officials say they will wait until next year before seeking legislative approval for a merger with Northwest Missouri State University.

With only three weeks left in the legislative session, UM Spokesman Joe Moore said it became obvious that lawmakers would be consumed with solving the budget shortfall.

"At the very beginning of this process, we were hopeful that the legislature would be able to address this issue," Moore said. "But it has recently become apparent with the budget situation facing the legislature that this simply couldn't be addressed right now."

Nearly three weeks ago, UM President Elson Floyd and Northwest President Dean Hubbard announced plans to study whether Northwest should become the fifth campus in the UM System. But before Northwest could join the system, the Board of Curators of each institution would have to approve the merger. The Missouri legislature must then sign off on the plan.

Initially, university officials were optimistic that they could get the merger legislation pushed through the House and Senate this session, Moore said. But in recent weeks, several questions have surfaced about what changes might be made to Northwest so it fits in with the other UM campuses. Concerns include whether Northwest's tuition will need to be increased, if the academic standards for admission to Northwest are rigorous enough and whether or not Northwest's name should be changed.

The university doesn't have any answers to these questions yet, Moore said.

However, administrators from UM and Northwest met this week to try and hammer out a plan for a possible merger. One of their recommendations, Moore said, is to change Northwest's name to the University of Missouri - Northwest. But the Board of Curators for each institution and the legislature would have to OK the name change.

Although many details still need to be worked out, Moore said university officials were confident they could have brought a merger plan to the legislature in the few remaining weeks of the session.

"We do believe those are issues that could have been handled on our end in time," he said.

Columbia lawmakers said they understand why the university decided to wait until next session and voiced support for a possible merger.

"I think it's a timing issue," said Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia. "Right now we probably will be focusing on the budget issue for the next two weeks."

Her colleague, Columbia Democratic Rep. Jeff Harris, added,"I think it's a good idea for the two institutions to continue their discussions."

UM lobbyist Jim Snider said it is worth delaying the merger to make sure it's done right.

"It's a bold new step and you need to have a certain confidence level before you take that step," Snider said. The merger "can be very smooth if you approach it correctly."