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‘Frail relationships’ between lawmakers and University of Missouri system improving

State lawmakers and University of Missouri system officials said Tuesday they are continuing to repair a “frail relationship” that began in 2015 after protests at the system’s flagship school, Mizzou.

During months of fallout, Missouri lawmakers said they felt like system leaders handled the situation poorly and have since punished the MU System in subsequent budget sessions with cuts aimed directly at the system.

“We as legislators were getting a lot of feedback from constituents that were really not pleased with the way things played out,” said state budget chair Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick. “When that happens, there’s a lot of pressure from the legislative perspective to do something and really the only thing you can do is appropriate less money or not appropriate more money.”

But Fitzpatrick said changes in leadership and an effort to repair relationships by the system have not gone unnoticed.

“I think that one of the things my colleagues and I have expected and really told the university system is we want less stories of how you are doing dumb things sometimes,” he said. “They’ve done a good job curbing those things and have seen an increase in responsibility of the system.”

MU System President Mun Choi said the improvement comes from being prepared to listen to advice from lawmakers and finding ways to be better stewards of resources from the state.

“Not only through appropriations but also through tuition dollars that are being paid by Missouri residents,” he said.

Choi said that relationship needs to be sustained.

“Having that strong leadership position and also that strong relationship with the citizens of Missouri will help us weather through those hiccups that we’re going to eventually have,” he said.

Dusty Schnieders is the system’s newest lobbyist. He was hired last month as the director of governmental affairs after Choi called off a search for executive director of governmental affairs.

Previously the chief of staff for Senate president pro tem Ron Richards, Schieders is familiar with the day-to-day workings of the Capitol, and Choi said he will be instrumental in helping connect university system leaders to lawmakers in Jefferson City.

Schnieders said knowing the process and lawmakers will help him continue to repair those frail relationships.

“My first goal is to get in there and meet with as many legislators as possible to tell them all the good things that the university system is doing,” he said.

In his previous job, Schieders said he noticed the positive change in that relationship between the university system and lawmakers. He attributes it to Choi’s leadership.

“He’s really making a lot of headway and the elected officials are liking the leadership he’s shown so far,” he said.

The effort to educate lawmakers on the university’s system’s position as one of the state’s greatest assets, and keeping positive stories in the cycle, could help the system avoid financial retaliation.

“Dusty will make opportunities available for me and other leaders to meet with legislative leaders to share the stories about what we provide in terms of an outstanding, affordable education and the research our faculty members perform that benefit the lives of Missouri citizens,” he said. “Whether that’s in developing new bio joins to better crops for better yields for farmers in Missouri, those are the types of stories we need to share.”

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