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Plan could halt budget cuts at UM

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Mizzou students celebrate as Wolfe resigns as president

Mizzou students celebrate the news that University of Missouri System President Timothy M. Wolfe resigned on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY • A state senator floated a plan Tuesday that could spare the University of Missouri from budget cuts this year.

After months of heated rhetoric over the behavior of former communications instructor Melissa Click amid a series of racially charged student protests, Republican state Sen. Kurt Schaefer of Columbia wants to form a special committee to review university system operations.

Schaefer said the university’s response to the panel’s recommendation could be considered when the Legislature discusses the Mizzou budget next year.

“This committee allows us to step back, gather information and then make an informed decision as to whether or not there should be funding changes at the University of Missouri,” said Schaefer, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and is a candidate for attorney general.

The proposed cooling off period comes a week after the Board of Curator’s fired Click for her behavior during last year’s protests.

For some lawmakers, Click’s presence on the payroll had become a symbol of the university’s dysfunction. In January, for example, more than 100 Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Mizzou calling on administrators to fire her.

Republican leaders in the House also threatened to cut funding to the state’s flagship university as a way to force change. The House Budget Committee approved a $7.7 million cut to the UM System on Tuesday, though they still need to approve the full House bill. They restored a  $400,000 cut for  symbolic salary cuts for Click; Mizzou’s Communication Department Chairman Mitchell McKinney; and College of Arts and Science Dean Michael O’Brien.

The tumult at the university also spawned calls for an audit of the university. State Auditor Nicole Galloway said  last month she was launching a review of the university system.

Schaefer, however, says his blue ribbon panel is an opportunity to “step back” and let the heated debate cool down.

“We all acknowledge there are serious problems at the University of Missouri,” Schaefer said. “If it took calamity to get us to that point we should take advantage of that.”

If approved by the full Senate and House, the plan calls for the creation of an eight-member panel to be appointed by Republican legislative leaders. Members are expected to have expertise in finance, education and management, as well as an affinity for Mizzou. Their report is due Dec. 31.

“This is an outside group. These aren’t politicians,” Schaefer said.

The House currently is crafting an overall state budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The spending blueprint is expected to move to the Senate in the coming days.

“I think this is a positive message to move forward,” Schaefer said.

-- Alex Stuckey of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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If approved by the full Senate and House, the plan calls for the creation of an eight-member panel to be appointed by Republican legislative leaders. Members are expected to have expertise in finance, education and management, as well as an affinity for Mizzou. Their report is due Dec. 31.

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