Cartoon 3/21/2021

Representation is important. Those on a governing body need to be able to relate to the people they are making decisions for. The undermanned Northwest Board of Regents has one gaping issue when it comes to representation, and it needs to be fixed. One of the open seats should be filled by a person of color.

The current Board is made up of six people — three men and three women — all of whom are white. The mid-year equity report from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion estimates as of the fall of 2020 that 13% of the student population is made up of people of color. That percentage is almost the exact equivalent of one regent on the eight-person board. 

Regents are nominated by Gov. Mike Parson and confirmed by the Missouri Senate much like Cabinet positions at the federal level. Parson’s administration in 2020 was plagued by accusations of feet dragging as his inaction with COVID-19 drew the ire of many in the Show-Me State. His inaction doesn’t end with the virus, however.

In March 2020, former Regent George Speckman, I-St. Joseph, Mo., quietly resigned from the Board. The bylaws state that a regent should “immediately” be appointed to fill the vacancy. Apparently, more than a year was still within Parson’s definition of immediately.

The Board of Regents is responsible for managing the University’s finances and hiring and firing administration members, among other things. A pandemic is quite possibly the worst time for the Board to be down a member, and with the turning of the new year, another vacancy opened up as former Regent Marilou Joyner’s, D-Kansas City, Mo., term expired Jan. 1.

Parson nominated two people for the open positions March 3, Stephen Coppinger, I-Kansas City, Mo., and Shanda Durbin, I-St. Joseph, Mo. Neither of these nominees is a person of color.

Now, the possible search for a new University president is looming over the Board of Regents as current President John Jasinski is a finalist for a vacancy at another university. Jasinski’s departure would trigger a monthslong search, the need to appoint an interim president and ultimately the final hiring decision to an almost-complete Board that will not have a single person of color as a regent. 

If Northwest, and Missouri higher education as a whole, is really concerned with representing people of color, which they should be, then appointing a person of color to the Board should have been a top priority for Parson. 

Since the initial vacancy 12 months ago, the call for representation in places of power has strengthened significantly across the country. President Joe Biden’s campaign and subsequent administration focused heavily on making sure that people of color were represented in positions of power, a somewhat stark contrast to former President Donald Trump’s administration.

Twice in just over a month, Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion Justin Mallett has presented the mid-year equity report, its findings and areas of concern, to all-white governing bodies with mixed reactions in the Maryville community.

Mallett spoke to the Board in its January meeting about the lack of resources and the lack of trust that is often felt by people of color at Northwest and in Maryville. He used “we” statements because he can relate on a personal level to the strife of people of color in a predominantly white community like Northwest.

The current regents and new nominees cannot and will not ever be able to relate on a personal level to the experiences of a person of color. This lack of perspective will make their jobs more difficult as they, hopefully, try to do what’s best to address the issues that people of color face as Bearcats.

Exposure and input bring change and understanding; this is just as true for classrooms as it is for governing bodies. The best thing for the Board would be to have a person of color added to their midst, not because of a monolith political agenda by those who do not have pale skin, but because it would allow the voices on the Board to truly represent the students.

An eighth of the students have no voice on the Board that accurately represents them, not only is it a mathematical no-brainer to correct this error, but it would have been a sensible decision as well. For people of color to be shown they truly matter at Northwest, they need to be represented in the most powerful governing body at the University.

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