Missouri Southern State University has wisely decided to restart its 20-year-old legislative intern program in Jefferson City.
Students interested in government or elected offices need the invaluable experience that lawmakers and their staffs can provide. But changes had to occur to make this possible.
The university will send only juniors and seniors to Jefferson City. Students also will be better screened than in the past. The program is set to start in 2017.
The university in Joplin with about 6,000 students had withdrawn four interns from the Capitol in April 2015 because of some legislators’ improper behavior. No college wants to knowingly put a student in a hostile environment. That sends the wrong message about higher education and government.
In one instance, a 19-year-old Missouri Southern student had become entangled in a relationship with then-House Speaker John Diehl. A Kansas City Star investigation turned up the texting scandal that led to Diehl’s resignation in 2015. Sen. Paul LeVota also resigned last year from the legislature because of sexual overtures toward at least two college interns assigned to his office.
The House took the appropriate action in re-evaluating its internship program and sexual harassment policies. That proved to be unnecessarily challenging with some lawmakers last year proposing a conservative dress code for interns, suggesting that the interns were the problem. Fortunately, that plan died.
Instead lawmakers settled on mandatory sexual harassment training, with an ombudsman serving as a liaison for the interns, House administration and universities.
Those things should instill confidence in college officials sending interns to the Capitol.
Students need to see officials and the legislative process at their best. The General Assembly has traditionally been morally and ethically “flexible.” Getting the internship program right is a good step toward correcting other problems.