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Parson asks for David Steelman’s help in UM System Board transition


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Last week, Gov. Mike  Parson asked for David Steelman’s help in the transition the University of Missouri (UM) System Board of Curators is undertaking in a letter sent to the board’s Columbia address.

In the April 14 letter provided to The Missouri Times, Parson said he met with Steelman on Jan. 9. Then, Steelman “expressed a desire and willingness” to remain on the board, receive a re-appointment, or leave “at a time of [Parson’s] choosing.” In the letter, Parson asked Steelman to step aside at the end of the month and thanked him for his willingness to assist the governor and for the flexibility he has extended during the transition.

Steelman’s time on the board of curators has been a prolific one. He has been widely viewed as the most influential and successful curator in several decades. He was placed on the board by his opponent in the 1992 attorney general’s race, Gov. Jay Nixon, and at the time the university was teetering on complete failure under the Tim Wolfe administration. 

He was the leading voice of reason on the board during the unrest on campus leading to a hunger strike by a student and the football team declaring it would not play. When Wolfe ultimately resigned, he was the top proponent of the university hiring Dr. Mun Choi, now regarded as one of the university’s best presidents. 

Steelman also headed off a decision to hire a subpar football coach, culminating in the successful hiring of  Eliah Drinkwitz. Recently he spearheaded the move to see Choi become both the head of the UM System and chancellor of the Columbia flagship campus. The entire culture and design of the system have been revitalized during his tenure. 

When asked for a reaction to the letter, Steelman responded: “I only received it last night, and I’m going to do what’s best for the University of Missouri.”

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The letter from Parson outlines a meeting Steelman had with the governor and expressing a “willingness” to remain on the UM System Board of Curators or to leave the board at the governor’s discretion. 

“Addressing expired terms on the Board of Curators in an orderly fashion is critical at this juncture in order to provide predictability and clarity to the University of Missouri System in order to allow the System to build on its recent successes and prepare for a bright future in furtherance of its mission,” Parson said. “Addressing expired terms at this juncture also allows the Missouri Senate to consider Curator nominees for advice and consent based on their individual capability to serve rather than fueling the inability that results from a significant bloc of curators who remain too long on an expired term.” 

The new appointees to the UM System Board have been a point of contention. After a bipartisan filibuster that spilled into the early morning hours, the Senate approved the appointment of Todd Graves to the board. But Keith Holloway, who was appointed to replace Steelman, has not been brought to the Senate floor for full consideration — and it doesn’t look like members of the Gubernatorial Appointments Committee plan to. 

“We are going to include Mr. Holloway in our hearing [Wednesday]. However, we are not planning to exec his nomination to the floor,” Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden said. 

Holloway, Parson’s pick for the 8th district slot, is a Cape Girardeau-based business owner and commercial real estate investor and manager. Holloway serves on the University of Missouri Cape Girardeau County Extension Council, in addition to the ERASE Foundation Board, Missouri Forest Products Association, Missouri Chamber of Commerce, and the Three Rivers Endowment Trust Board. Holloway is also a system alumnus, holding a Bachelor of Science in business administration and finance from the Columbia campus.

With only four weeks left in session and the budget still yet to be completed, a confirmation of Holloway would likely take several hours and endanger several other Republican priorities — such as legislation protecting the Second Amendment from federal overreach and strengthening Missouri’s strict abortion laws. 

“After spending over 10 hours on the floor with a Mizzou curator nomination, I think it’s the right decision by the chair and vice chair to hold this in committee with so few days left in session and with the budget still yet to do. Practically there isn’t time,” Sen. Justin Brown said. 

“After what happened with the previous Mizzou curator nomination, it makes sense to give Mr. Holloway a hearing but to wait until there is at least a sense of where the body is before pushing the nomination to the floor with just a few weeks left in session,” Sen. Brian Williams said. 

Holloway’s hearing will be held Wednesday in the Gubernatorial Appointments Committee.