This week on Intersection, we're talking with two local legislators about major issues at play in the Missouri General Assembly's 2016 session.Our guests are District 45 Democratic Rep. Kip Kendrick, and District 44 Republican Rep. Caleb Rowden. Our conversations with Kendrick and Rowden touch on issues including ethics reform, healthcare, highways, UM funding and college loan debt. To learn more, listen to our entire show, or read and listen to portions of our interviews after the jump.
Kip Kendrick says funding MoDot is a priority, so it can begin to repair long-ailing infrastructure. Kendrick says a bill proposing a gas-tax increase will not solve the MoDot funding problem, but could be a step in the right direction.
Ethics reform has also become a hot-button topic for the upcoming legislative session. Rep. Caleb Rowden has worked on the issue for the past year and believes the state is getting close to the finish line.
Interview with Kip Kendrick
What’s going on in the legislature in terms of people’s attitude toward the University at this time?
I don’t think it comes as any surprise to people here in Columbia or mid-Missouri that there is a spotlight on the University of Missouri in Jefferson City right now, and it’s very frustrating from my point of view that so many people want to do damage to the University by cutting the budget, by proposing senseless legislation that will do damage to research, to faculty recruitment. It’s as if we’ve forgotten what the University means to research and innovation and economic development all across the state.
And what is some of that legislation?
There’s a senate bill currently that the topic is I guess creating more transparency in faculty. It’s publishing syllabi and making course material public information, which is extremely damaging in faculty recruitment. Tthe University of Missouri just cleared out a lot of room to hire new faculty and is doing a lot of recruitment currently, and we’re having this discussion across the state, and what does that tell some of the top notch faculty we are trying to recruit? It tells them that potentially Missouri doesn’t value higher education. That you will be under attack for what you are teaching in your classes, and that’s just the wrong message. Even if this legislation doesn’t make it anywhere, the fact that we’re having the conversation is damaging.
At present, even without that legislation, do you think it is easy for the University to attract top notch faculty or are there challenges?
You know I do believe that there are challenges. Part of the blame at least should be placed on the state. We are 44th in the nation in higher education spending. We took a major budget cut in 2003 and again in 2009. Where today, we have 18,000 more students than in 2002 but yet less state appropriations. And with the real threat of budget cuts this year, it’s going to definitely hinder our ability to recruit.
Do you think that those budget cuts could be interpreted as sort of a rebuke or punishment for the University coming from the legislature?
Absolutely. Absolutely. That is the intent of the budget cuts, at least the discussion of them. People believe that the damage is done and they’re upset and so they want to do real damage now to the University with their budget cuts.
Interview with Caleb Rowden
There's been quite a bit of talk about funding the University this coming year, and I was also reading that you and the other representatives from Boone county have decided to cooperate across party lines to work against funding cuts. Can you talk a little bit about that?
You know anybody who's been watching the dialogue and been watching things unfold over the last few months, everybody is frustrated. A lot of people are frustrated for different reasons. It became a perfect storm of just missteps. I think there were certainly some self-inflicted wounds on the part of the university and then some external things that maybe they had less control over, but It's undoubtedly going to be a tough year there's just no question about that. I think it's kind of a twofold process, and I've met with the interim president and the interim chancellor and the new athletic director, and I appreciate the fact that they understand that there are problems that have to be fixed. I think when you have this sorts of moment, you learn from those types of things, but you don't have to be defined by it going forward and I thinks that's really the position that we're in. You know as far as funding goes, the points that I make are, one, the reason why we have invested heavily in the University of Missouri five years ago, 10 years ago and even last year, those reasons still exist today. Most of the things that happened don't negate that, those things haven't changed. We still are a huge economic driver, not only in this part of the state, but in the state as a whole and we also produce and introduce high quality educated students into a work force at a time when, frankly, there are places for them to go, in certain fields.
A fair amount of the conversation on reducing funding for the university seems to come from the Republican party, which is your party. What do you think the party would hope to attain from those funding cuts?
I'm not sure the motivations are wrong and I'll explain that. We have both the authority and the responsibility to protect taxpayers. When you appropriate 400 plus million dollars every year to an institution, there has to be some accountability that comes with that you know, and certainly I've talked to a big cross section of individuals, even in Columbia, but around mid-Missouri kind of in the rural parts and they're frustrated....They want to see funding from the university cut and that's something that I've heard many, many times. as I've talked to folks. But you have to get past the reality of, "We're doing this because we're frustrated, and we're going to teach them a lesson," or you know, play the blame game or those sorts of things. And just understand, that when you cut, the cuts aren't probably going to go where you think they're gonna go, they end up falling on the backs of students and they end up falling on the backs of parents who are paying that tuition and it has an incredibly harmful impact. You put that on top off what we've seen, kind of a lagging enrollment that certainly we knew as a result of this was gonna be there and the lagging private sector donations to the athletic departments and some other places. Those are the real world realities and we don't have anything we can do about that, except work to earn trust again. For me, with my colleagues in Jefferson City it's an educational process, and let's talk through what you're trying to accomplish. Everybody is frustrated... Hopefully we can get to a point in that conversation were we understand that maybe this isn't the best, maybe you're anger is justified, but it's aimed at the wrong direction. That's been my goal in the conversations I've had with my colleagues over the first few weeks of session.
What do you think people are frustrated with?
I think generally, the view is that there is just a significant lack of leadership. You don't get to the position that we were, when the hunger strikes started and the whole process that followed that. You don't get there without folks being disengaged and not being aware of exactly where we were in the process. So I think that really is what it boils down to and you had the graduate student insurance issue, you had the Planned Parenthood things, you had a gun rights issue, you had concerned student 1950, the football team. All of this things were different types of issues, but they were all issues and they all hit in a pretty small window of time, and that's why I said a lot of people are frustrated for lot of different reasons. I think at this point, as I've told administration, my goal is to help. Try and help understand how we got there, and then all you can do is work to repair the structure and repair the organizational parts of it, to make sure that you don't get there again. And some of the stuff, time is the only thing that will heal it. You don't earn trust back overnight, it is something that you put your head down and you fight and you do things that right way and you do them with integrity. And over time people will begin to trust again, and I think that's the process that the university is going to have to undertake; both with the general assembly, and I think just with the general public.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.