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Joint education committee questions Loftin on Mizzou leave policies


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – University of Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin found himself providing testimony on behalf of the university for the second time in as many days Wednesday afternoon.

After discussing MU’s possible connection with the Columbia Planned Parenthood affiliate yesterday, Loftin testified before the Joint Committee on Education on behalf of the University of Missouri Board of Curators and the president of the university Tim Wolfe for a special presentation regarding to tenure and paid and unpaid leave policies at Mizzou.

Loftin detailed that the university authorizes two kinds of leave: one that would be of mutual benefit to Mizzou and the faculty member by allowing the faculty member to increase their expertise in a particular field, and another that is used for personal leave, which is typically used as time to treat a prolonged illness or, in much rarer circumstances, run for political office.

The review surreptitiously dealt with whether these policies allowed University of Missouri law professor Josh Hawley to seek public office and whether the school and professor had appropriately followed rules put in place in his bid to run for state attorney general. Hawley is running against Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, in the Republican primary for the position.

Hawley is the fourth member of the UM system to run for office in the 40-odd years the policy has been in place. Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said the university should not have such a plan in place.

“I think you need to change this and not allow for them to run,” Nasheed said. “They have to abdicate their position for them to be able to continue to run.”

Loftin, to an extent, agreed, noting that at his former position as the president of Texas A&M University, that their policy did not allow staff members to run for state office. However, the policy at the University largely matches those of other universities within the state.

Nasheed also added that Hawley’s run created a conflict of interest for the university, given the nature of the race between Hawley and Schaefer, who chairs the appropriations committee. She noted that while the university would not suffer any backlash in appropriations, that she personally would go to some lengths to ensure her opponent would not win an election.

Rep. Mike Lair, R-Chillicothe, did not see much of a problem with allowing staff members to go on leave to run campaigns, stating that if a state representative or state senator, technically part-time state employees ran for a statewide office and lost, they would not need to abdicate their positions.

“I don’t think it’s as big a deal as we’ve been led to believe,” Lair said.

Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, noted that he did not find the policy particularly well-drafted and that some loose definitions could allow for loopholes in the policy.

Several members of the committee expressed disappointment and anger that Wolfe did not appear in person to testify, even though he was the one that requested a presentation. Others expressed confusion at why the current rule on leave for political purposes had been changed by the curators and adapted as recently as July, even though the new rules on the surface would appear to make it more difficult for a potential candidate to attain more time off to run a campaign. The timing of such a change however concerned them.