How Democracy is in Play at Missouri State University

Nov 18, 2016

For many college students across the country, last Tuesday’s election was the first in which they could cast a ballot for U.S. president. But it’s likely not the first time they’ve influenced decisions on leadership and policy.

On campuses across the country, students help drive these outcomes in a variety of ways.

Citizen Scholar Statue at Missouri State University
Credit Missouri State University

At Missouri State University, engagement in the democratic process is encouraged through its Public Affairs Mission, according to President Clif Smart.

He says, “I do think it’s important for our students, our employees, those in the university community to be educated and to be up to speed, and as a university we try to help them get there and then we support whatever they decide. That’s the great thing about democracy.”

He adds that MSU this election cycle played host to candidate debates and there are student groups on campus that support certain political parties. Smart also noted stances he’s made public on past ballot measures.

“Sometimes there are issues out there that I think it’s important for our community to know where their leadership is,” he says.

That includes Smart’s opposition to repealing the city of Springfield’s non-discrimination policy, which was amended in 2014 to expand protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The measure won a majority vote that following spring and was repealed.

Outside of national, statewide or local elections, students can help decide policy on campus through referendums, for example. Smart describes last year’s student initiative seeking a $29 fee increase to fund a new health and wellness center.

“There’s a couple of different ways that can come about. A group of students can either collect signatures to get it on the ballot or they can take it to their SGA – Student Government Association Senate – that has to pass within a certain vote there. And then they would work with the administration to put the budget together, get an architect hired, have the bidding process go through.”

Some student-approved measures, including increasing fees, require final approval from the university’s 9-member Board of Governors.

Members are appointed by Missouri’s governor and subject to confirmation by the state Senate. Smart says different governors use different processes to make these appointments.

“Some are personally known to them, some use an application process, some get input from the university, some don’t.”

At MSU, no more than five members of its governing board can be from one political party, according to Smart.

Above, listen to our entire conversation with President Clif Smart, heard the third Friday of each month on Engaging the Community.