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Senator fights to open closed board meetings

January 29, 1998
By: Margaret Murphy
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Columbia's senator wants to allow the student representative to sit in on closed meetings of the University of Missouri Board of Curators, but one of his colleagues calls such a move a bad idea because the student could become a "patsy for the professors."

Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, introduced the bill in the Missouri Senate.

"My belief is curators make a lot of decisions behind closed doors and I don't trust them," Jacob said. "I want a student representative there."

His colleague, Sen. John Rusell, R-Lebanon, opposes Jacob's bill, which was considered by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.

"It's not logical, it's not sensible, it's impractical and it's stupid to think that student representatives attending those meetings are not ever going to tell anyone confidential information," Russell said.

Russell said he didn't believe all student representatives would reveal confidential information. He said he fears the possibility that the student could come under pressure from a professor, faculty or staff to tell what they heard in a closed meeting.

"If there's a crisis, the student could misunderstand, tell a professor and we could have a big demonstration over nothing," Russell said.

Sen. Betty Sims, R-Ladue, said she will support Jacob's bill. "If the question is about the integrity of students, we need to do a better job in the process of appointing students," Sims said. "You can't tell me out of 10,000 students, we can't find one."

Jacob has introduced a similar bill for the past several years. The education committee took no action on his bill Wednesday.

"Getting this passed isn't a matter of merits, it's a matter of a chess game," Jacob said.

"I get beat up on it every year," he said. "One of these years I'm going to get it done." Jacob said the law to allow a student representative on the board of curators was the first bill he passed after being elected to the House in 1982. The student representative is not allowed to vote on matters before the board.

Jim Snider, lobbyist for the University of Missouri system, said the board has no position on Jacob's bill.

"We won't and haven't taken a position on the bill," Snider said. "The curators have never discussed it with the president," either Pacheco or his predecessors.

Curator Adam Fischer said he did not feel strongly one way or the other about the bill.

"The only down side is there are occasions when the board discusses personnel matters," Fischer said. "It's possible that there could be a discussion about a professor the student has for a class."

Sarah Welch, who was nominated by Gov. Mel Carnahan last week as the new student representative to the board, said she personally supports allowing the student representative to attend the closed meetings.

"I personally feel that this is a step in the right direction," Welch said, "and further, if this piece of legislation is passed, it might help me and future students fulfill our obligations to the student bodies we represent."