GOP gov. candidates promise to keep Mizzou funding cuts

At a gubernatorial debate Thursday night, all but one of the Republican candidates endorsed cuts to the University of Missouri’s budget proposed in response to administrators’ mishandling of racial protests last fall.

The cuts—which amount to more than $8 million—were included in a budget bill passed by the state House last week, and would compound the financial difficulties facing the school as it struggles to cope with a sharp drop in donations and applications that many blame on the controversy surrounding Prof. Melissa Click’s call for “muscle” to remove a student journalist from a public protest last year.

[RELATED: Mizzou short on cash and desperate for students after semester of protests]

During the debate, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, businessman John Brunner, and former Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway all pledged that they would keep the cuts in place until Mizzou thoroughly addresses lawmakers’ complaints, according to The Columbia Missourian, while businessman and former Democrat Eric Greitens distinguished himself by arguing that the cuts would reduce the quality of instruction available to students.

Kinder attributed the situation at Mizzou to a “failure of leadership” at all levels, specifically citing officials’ acquiescence to a threatened strike by members of the football team and promising to appoint new curators to oversee the school.

“What I'm hearing is you've had a bellyful of what has gone on [at] the campus of the University of Missouri here in Columbia,” he said, addressing viewers directly. “We have had a massive failure of leadership from the governor's mansion on down, and I hear you. We've had a governor who, just as in Ferguson, hid out in the mansion, instead of coming over here and exerting some kind of leadership.”

Hanaway also said she would replace Mizzou’s curators, but offered additional specificity, saying she would ask them to uphold three principles: “Teachers will teach, scholarship athletes will play, and students will be able to go to class without 'muscle' being called [for].”

Brunner took perhaps the strongest position in favor of maintaining the cuts, saying he will only consider reversing them if Mizzou severs all ties with Planned Parenthood.

Greitens, on the other hand, echoed some of the concerns voiced by the school’s defenders, warning that cutting Mizzou’s budget could leave less money for hiring quality faculty, to the ultimate detriment of students.

Rather than using budget cuts to induce change at the university, St. Louis Public Radio reports that Greitens suggested he would plan a “fantastic university” first, and then devise a budget to meet the institution’s needs.

The current governor, Jay Nixon (D), has strongly opposed the effort to cut Mizzou’s funding, and even released a budget proposal in February that called for increasing the university’s budget by $26 million.

[RELATED: Mizzou says funding is ‘down to the bone,’ spends $19k at the Ritz]

A statewide newspaper poll released last week found that voters have divided opinions on the issue. Just 20 percent of respondents said they favor reducing Mizzou’s budget, but even fewer (15 percent) supported increasing its funding, while the remaining 65 percent opposed any change to the annual allocation.

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