JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – When Renee Hulshof was asked to accept a position with the newly formed University of Missouri Review Commission, a flurry of thoughts went through her mind.
Among the first, said Hulshof, the conservative co-host of a popular AM talk show in Columbia, Mo., was that the commission was being asked to do a lot of work in a short period of time.
“I thought, ‘Do I have time for that? Do I really want to wade into that?” said Hulshof, who is also the wife of former congressman and gubernatorial candidate Kenny Hulshof. “I live very near one of the system campuses and my next thought was, ‘How much of a political football is this going to become?'”
These thoughts, or similar ones, likely have crossed the minds of all four of the commissioners named last week by Sen. President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin. The four remaining slots are expected to be filled soon by House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff.
The eight-member commission has less than six months, until Dec. 31, to prepare a report making recommendations after reviewing several components of the University of Missouri System, including its policies and administrative structures, campus structures, auxiliary enterprise structure, degree programs, research activities and diversity programs.
So it’s hard to argue that there’s a lot to be done in a short time or that the potential for the commission, and especially its findings, to become a “political football.” The commission was created by Missouri lawmakers after the university came under fire for its handling of protests over what students saw as racism at the Columbia campus last fall.
The work also could likely be thankless, considering that the legislature and the system could largely ignore the commission’s work, or use it as the impetus for more debate over whether or not the legislature will withhold higher-education funds.
Despite all that, Hulshof said “yes” to the job after she weighed the pros and cons and sought advice from trusted advisers, including her husband.
“I ultimately came to conclusion that, regardless of what happens with the work the commission does — whether it’s put on shelf or some of it gets implemented, whatever happens — that by going through this process, I will have contributed something,” Hulshof said Monday. “That I can try to make the place where I went to school, I can try to make it better to the best of my ability. I don’t feel like I could walk away from that invitation.”
Hulshof said the commissioners — which includes businessman and former gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence of St. Louis; Neal Bredehoeft of Alma and of the Missouri Soybean Association, and Kansas City lawyer Michael Williams — won’t know much until the rest of the commission is appointed and she still has numerous questions about how the commission is to proceed.
Richard said with the appointments that he hopes the work of the commission will help “gain back the trust and respect” from people across the state. The University of Missouri-Columbia campus’s leadership was questioned last fall after protests over issues of race and the future of Melissa Click, an assistant professor of communication who was fired in February.
Hulshof isn’t certain that any commission could help the university system with any trust or respect issues it may have. The system is going to have to be responsible for that, she said.
“The only way the university will regain the trust and admiration of the public is their actions over time,” Hulshof said. “Nothing I do or say or the commission or the legislature can change the way the university is perceived.”
But Hulshof understands that the commission will likely be looking at that and she believes the commission should do that.
“Anything that taints or harms the system has got to be examined,” she said.
Hulshof said that to look at the entire system and find things to do better is a “huge undertaking” and that it is a concern that the commission has been given a deadline of Dec. 31.
“We’ll see how my colleagues want to tackle it,” she said. “I don’t want to speak to what I might want to do, it’s going to be a group decision. I have some thoughts, but I’m going to wait and see.”
She didn’t know how the commission would even conduct its work yet, which isn’t surprising considering the full commission has yet to be named.
“But stay tuned,” she said. “I’m anxious to get started and I’m cautiously optimistic.”