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Missouri Digital News
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By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»COL208.PRB - Politics and Higher Education Administrators
The resignation of top University of Missouri officials has reminded me of the last top UM official so publicly driven from office -- Brice Ratchford.
He was one of the most fascinating characters I've covered.
Although president of the University of Missouri and a scholar in agricultural economics, he was far from a traditional academic.
He rented a small plot of land that he'd plow and plant just to relax. He spent hours floating on a jon boat drinking beer with the Senate's top leader at the time, Pat Patterson.
It was one of several close relationships Ratchford developed with legislators. He aggressively lobbied for university budgets on a level that has not been equaled since.
The university enjoyed some of its biggest budget increases. But there was a cost.
Ratchford's efforts made enemies.
Some legislators began gunning for him. So too did Gov. Kit Bond who charged that as vice president for extension, Ratchford had turned the program into a political force that Ratchford continued as UM president.
Early in his presidency, Ratchford acknowledged that his intensive efforts for university funding would make him a short-term president.
But in a statement akin to Lyndon Johnson when aides questioned his decision to push a civil rights law after Kennedy's assassination, Ratchford asked what was his office worth if he didn't take risks to advance the university.
Every dollar more he got into the budget, Ratchford told me, would build the budget base upon which future budgets were built -- long after he had left the presidency.
In the decades following Ratchford's 1976 resignation, I've not seen since a university president engage in the same level of personal effort with legislators.
But there is one similarity with the current era -- opposition from faculty on the Columbia campus.
It was not the widely reported race tensions that forced R. Bowen Loftin out as chancellor. Instead, it was the intense opposition from deans and faculty for budget changes and for what some charged was caving to legislative pressure in severing university relations with Planned Parenthood.
Four decades earlier, Ratchford faced similar opposition for his efforts to find ways to reduce expensive duplication of programs among the four campuses.
Columbia faculty were outraged, fearing it would lead to cuts in their own programs to bolster the urban campuses in St. Louis and Kansas City.
Ratchford presented his "Role and Scope" efforts as a rational approach to the likelihood that the state funding bonanza for higher education could not be sustained -- a prediction that ultimately became true and continues to plague higher education to this day.
Unlike some of Loftin's changes, Role and Scope underwent a thoroughly public process and debate.
Ratchford had teams of experts reviewing the programs across the campuses. And he listened.
He reversed his thoughts about engineering when his engineering task force concluded there were substantial differences and benefits in maintaining separate engineering programs at the Rolla and Columbia campuses.
But the faculty opposition was so intense that much of Ratchford's plan was abandoned.
He resigned after a no-confidence vote by the Columbia faculty. Nearly four decades later, Loftin resigned after campus deans signed a letter demanding his removal.
The opposition Ratchford encountered with his "Role and Scope" reflected a lesson I was taught by my graduate government budgeting teacher, the late Stan Botner -- that the resistance within government to consolidation is nearly insurmountable.
The Columbia Tribune's former publisher, Henry Waters, wrote a column a few years ago about how the budget efficiency efforts of university administrators after Ratchford continued to be derailed by faculty opposition.
I should need this column with a confession.
As a reporter while in graduate school, I covered Ratchford. He became a close source, informal teacher and friend. I actually considered adding him to my graduate committee. I wish I had.
Ratchford taught me so much about politics, higher education and the pressures public administrators face.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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