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Missouri bill gives legislators a leg up for academic jobs


Some higher education officials are complaining that a new law could give Missouri lawmakers an unfair advantage when it comes to getting a job in the ivory tower.

The newly passed provision bars public universities from denying jobs to state legislators on the grounds that they do not have a graduate degree. The measure was included in the bill Gov. Blunt signed to sell some assets of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority.

“We all pay a lot of dues to get where we are, and the dues are graduate school,” said Lana Stein, chairwoman of the political science department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Stein said she’s not opposed to lawmakers teaching a class or two, but she suspects faculty would resist giving tenure to a teacher with no graduate credentials.

The law was originally introduced by St. Louis-area legislator Sen. Tim Green, D-Spanish Lake, according to the Thursday edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Green has been promoting the provision for years, but said he was not aware of any former legislators being denied teaching jobs.

“There’s just people like myself that when we leave politics, we’d like to educate students,” he said. “The idea isn’t to line up jobs afterwards. There is nothing self-serving in it.”

Stephen Lehmkuhle, vice president for academic affairs for the University of Missouri system, said the new law will not require a change in the school’s hiring policies, which do not require faculty members to have doctorate degrees.

Most applicants do prove they are qualified by completing a rigorous graduate degree and writing a thesis, Lehmkuhle said.

“However, applicants can document and demonstrate their content knowledge and expertise in other ways based on their previous experiences and writings,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, called the new law unnecessary and dubbed it the “Tim Green endowed chair.”

Robb taught finance and business at the University of Missouri-Columbia before running for political office. He has a doctorate in economics from Michigan State University. While he had concerns about the law, he pointed out that public universities already invite a wide array of professionals to teach courses.

“It’s a much bigger bark than a bite because currently, a university could hire anybody to be an adjunct professor.”

Missouri law places few requirements on who can become a legislator, aside from a person’s age and status as a qualified voter and resident of the legislative district for a number of years.

Bob Samples, an UMSL spokesman, said hiring someone for a full-time teaching position who does not have a graduate degree is rare but not unprecedented. About 2 percent of UMSL’s 556 full-time faculty members lack a graduate degree. They include people such as clinical faculty in the nursing school.

Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis, an adjunct professor with a doctorate degree: “It doesn’t look good when legislators with term limits open up job opportunities for ourselves after retirement.”

Green said lawmakers could bring important, firsthand knowledge about politics to the classroom.

“The books don’t teach about the influence of special interests,” he said. “They don’t teach about campaign contributions.”

–Associated Press

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