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7 of 9 University of Missouri curators to be attorneys

Summer Ballentine//February 6, 2015

7 of 9 University of Missouri curators to be attorneys

Summer Ballentine//February 6, 2015

With the Senate confirming two more appointees to the University of Missouri Board of Curators on Thursday, at least seven of the nine board members will be attorneys.

Between the last and current legislative sessions, Gov. Jay Nixon appointed four lawyers for the board — Maurice Graham, former state Sen. Phillip Snowden, former state Rep. David Steelman and Mary Nelson, general counsel and chief legal officer for the St. Louis Community College District. Had all four been confirmed, eight of nine curators would have graduated from the University of Missouri School of Law.

Those appointments raised concerns about representation for the university system, also known for its journalism school and agricultural programs.

Republican Sen. Kurt Schaefer of Columbia said having eight of nine members serving as lawyers would have been “unprecedented.”

“What raises the red flag for me is why?” Schaefer said Thursday. “Why so many lawyers?”

On Wednesday, a Senate panel rejected Nelson’s nomination, citing a potential conflict of interest with her work for the community college district.

When asked whether the majority of lawyers represents the university system well, Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said in a written statement that the governor “is pleased” with the confirmations of three of his nominees.

“Each of them, along with nominee Mary Nelson, are outstanding Missourians with longtime connections to the University of Missouri and long records of public service to the people of this state,” Holste said.

Schaefer also questioned whether the appointments would give Nixon an advantage if he later expresses interest in serving as president of the University of Missouri, a post that must be approved by the curators. A day before, he unsuccessfully tried to attach an amendment to an ethics bill that would have prevented curators from voting on hiring the governor who appointed them.

But despite ethical concerns and a desire to have curators from more varied backgrounds, Snowden and Steelman were approved Thursday on a voice vote.

“We would like to see more diversity for our esteemed land grant institution,” Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said on the chamber floor. “But there’s no prohibition in statute saying they can’t all have been law school grads.”

University of Missouri System spokesman John Fougere declined to comment on the appointments.

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