Can Missouri legislators shelf petty politics and fill university vacancies?

Senate President Ron Richard (left) is in no hurry to fill vacancies on the University of Missouri Board of Curators.
Senate President Ron Richard (left) is in no hurry to fill vacancies on the University of Missouri Board of Curators. The Associated Press

Three of the nine seats on the University of Missouri’s Board of Curators have been vacated since November, leaving a shorthanded group to go about the essential work of searching for a new president for the four-campus system.

But key members of the Missouri General Assembly don’t regard that situation as urgent. Senate President Ron Richard told reporters this week he doesn’t intend to hold confirmation hearings for curator nominees until next January.

That of course is when a new governor will replace Jay Nixon, a Democrat. Richard and other Republicans want to wait in hopes that a candidate from their party will inherit the governor’s office and the nominating privileges.

Is it too much to ask for Richard and other lawmakers to put the good of the state ahead of politics?

The flagship university system has endured a tumultuous few months. It needs to shore up its governance, get strong new leaders in place and begin winning back the trust of students, families and alumni.

All of that begins with getting the Board of Curators up to full strength and broadening its diversity. Right now all six curators are white attorneys. They are hard-working, smart citizens, grappling with a monumental task. But the board needs a much greater range of expertise and life experience.

Nixon could appoint curators on an interim basis after the legislative session ends in May. But that prolongs the uncertainty. The university system can’t remain in limbo until next January. It also can’t afford to absorb punitive budget cuts, as legislators are threatening.

Lawmakers need to look at the big picture. A strong university system is the best way to keep bright young people in Missouri. It is a driver of economic development and the source of ideas and solutions to problems.

If ever there were a time for Nixon and Republican legislators to have a meeting of the minds, it is on the need to expeditiously fill the vacant curator seats with highly qualified leaders.