- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 13, 2016

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 11

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, America’s second-oldest symphony behind the New York Philharmonic, has every reason to rest on its ample laurels. Rather than dwell on the past or assume that an aging subscriber and donor base is good enough to sustain it, the orchestra’s future-leaning leaders are deploying an ambitious strategy to generate new audiences and funding sources.

They’ve incorporated Nelly and Prince into performances - one literally and the other in tribute. They’ve brought immigrants from Syria, Somalia and Congo to a concert at Powell Symphony Hall. Musicians have performed for some 20,000 people on Art Hill and in cancer centers, children’s hospitals, schools, coffee shops and military service centers. Most community performances are free and provide an easy way to experience a hint of what it would be like to hear a full symphony concert.

The community has responded. More than 250,000 people have heard the orchestra play at Powell Hall or other venues in the area. For the second year in a row, ticket sales and attendance are up, with the “Live at Powell Hall” pops concerts drawing their largest audiences since the series began in 2010. More than half of those concert-goers were new to the orchestra.

The symphony is thriving financially, coming back from the brink of bankruptcy in 2001. The SLSO had positive cash flow for the 2015-16 fiscal year, with total operating revenue of $28.4 million and adjusted operating expenses of $28.1 million. Earned revenues were $8.8 million, including $6.9 million in ticket sales.

Marie-Helene Bernard, symphony president and CEO, said the organization’s endowment of more than $200 million is among the healthiest in the country and is a helpful tool in recruiting musicians. The late Jack Taylor of Enterprise Rent-A-Car established the endowment trust.

Bernard is celebrating her first fiscal year with the orchestra with no signs of slowing down. In her recent meeting with the Post-Dispatch, the similarities between the two institutions became quickly apparent. Both are striving to incorporate digital platforms and continue to attract younger audiences while reassuring older, loyal followers that they remain valued.

The symphony is unique in the region because it receives no benefit from local tax revenues, as do the five cultural institutions in the Zoo-Museum District. The St. Louis Zoo and the St. Louis Art Museum each get about $20 million a year, while the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Missouri History Museum and the St. Louis Science Center each get about $10 million annually from property taxes in St. Louis and St. Louis County. The public voted on what institutions to include and rejected the symphony.

It has taken time for the symphony to shed its previous stodgy and elitist image. The result is a far more nimble - and financially healthy - institution.


Columbia Daily Tribune, Dec. 9

The University of Missouri and every other college in the land is dedicated to promoting diversity, inclusion and equity on campus. Protests bemoaning lack of progress cause everyone in authority to take notice. Policy statements, task forces and laws proclaim allegiance to these goals, particularly on the campuses of the University of Missouri System and most prominently at its campus in Columbia, which has become an example for the nation.

On Nov. 9, 2015, the very day then-UM System President Tim Wolfe resigned under pressure, the UM Board of Curators called for a survey of diversity and inclusion for the entire system. Earlier this week IBIS Consulting Group issued its report for the flagship MU campus containing familiar recommendations that will continue to frustrate those with unrealistic expectations.

IBIS held 100 focus groups on all four campuses including 148 faculty, 264 staff and 93 students. You and I and your cat could have written the conclusions: In every category underrepresented groups are . underrepresented. Stated goals for diversity, equity and inclusion are not being met in student enrollment or in faculty and staff positions. Minorities are underrepresented among tenure track faculty and on tenure review committees. People in charge of hiring and recruitment need more awareness of discrepancies and must try harder to change the ratios.

One need not study every facet of the IBIS recommendations. Given its charge, the consultant performed as expected. The easy part was finding disproportion. The impossible part is listing effective corrections.

Universities face impossible tension between calls for increased diversity and maintaining standards. Every official would love to enroll and hire well-qualified minorities in greater numbers, but such applicants are not available. Achieving minority ratios that reflect the general public is impossible, so consultants and campus officials are left with demonstrations of effort. Good effort is a necessary prerequisite but is not the same as achieving numerical success. Yet task force recommendations always must sound as if unreasonable numerical advancement is possible.

I’m not blaming anyone here, merely trying for more reasonable expectations.

I do think jawboning is needed and can help. Mizzou and other campuses should be places where minorities have an equal chance, but equal outcomes can’t be assured. Prospective students must be enrolled based mainly on institutional standards of academic readiness, faculty on ability to teach, and staff on non-demographic attributes related to the job at hand. When these basic criteria can be met, minorities should receive special attention. When adverse selection or attitudinal negativity is found, it should be countered immediately.

To hold out unreasonable expectations is to court disappointment. I can see why consultants and curators produce task force reports, and maybe they are bound to propose perfect solutions, but we need to remember what’s possible. When consultants suggest campus managers fail if they don’t produce minority constituents in unrealistic proportion, the consultants’ reports become only marginally helpful.


Joplin Globe, Dec. 1

The Missouri Southern State University Board of Governors’ decision to name an addition that will house science, technology, engineering and math classes the Jeremiah W. “Jay” Nixon Hall goes far beyond ceremony.

In our view, the Missouri governor’s name rightly belongs on the campus. And not just because he signed off on legislation that resulted in more than $16 million for the renovation of Reynolds Hall and the construction of what will be Nixon Hall.

Nixon has always been a champion for higher education, even 30 years ago when he was a freshman senator in the state Legislature and worked with Sen. Richard Webster on tax code changes that would affect the then Missouri Southern State College.

Later, as governor, he found ways, even after severe budget cutting, to restore money to MSSU and other higher education institutions if those schools drew the line on raising tuition. He, in part, is to thank for our university being known for its affordability.

Gov. Nixon launched the Innovation Campus initiative in 2012 to train students for careers in high-demand fields, cut the time it takes to earn a college degree, and reduce student debt.

This past June, Gov. Nixon signed House Bills 2017 and 2018, bipartisan legislation that provided $792 million to continue essential renovations across the state as well as funding for the governor’s $200 million Building Affordability Initiative to address deferred maintenance projects at colleges and universities across the state.

Included in this legislation was $16 million to fund renovations at Reynolds Hall, which was built in 1967 and was sadly lacking in equipment.

In a ceremony on Tuesday to break ground on Nixon Hall, the governor talked openly about his respect and appreciation of Joplin and how close he grew to the community after the May 22, 2011, tornado. The governor stayed for several days in the MSSU dorms in the aftermath of the devastating EF5 tornado. He told the Globe’s editorial board that he spent 75 of the first 84 days after the tornado in Joplin. During that time, he said he saw how important education was to Joplin.

The bipartisan Board of Governors unanimously chose the Democratic governor for the honor. It will be the first building in the state to bear his name. Nixon’s term as governor ends this year and he expects to go into private law practice.

The choice of Nixon’s name for the hall came with the backing of Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, who had talked with Nixon about the need for the money to make improvements for the building.

Dr. Alan Marble, president of MSSU, told us the governor was visibly moved at the ceremony as he spoke about Joplin, its faith and its values. That same emotion was present in his discussion with our board.

Nixon did not serve our area in name only. Southwest Missouri residents will see the results of his leadership for years to come.


St. Joseph News-Press, Dec. 8

When Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced Wednesday he was withholding $51 million more in planned spending, he took a relatively obvious option off the board and left his successor with more difficult choices for balancing the budget.

Nixon, a Democrat, suggests conservative Republicans are hyping the state’s budget challenges as Republican Gov.-elect Eric Greitens prepares to take office Jan. 9.

But at the same time, Nixon says declining tax revenues contributed to the need for cuts in spending planned for the fiscal year ending in June.

Overall, Nixon this fiscal year has cut more than $200 million in spending approved by lawmakers. The largest cut Wednesday was the $42.8 million he is temporarily withholding from Medicaid health care programs.

The governor took a moment to brag.

“In my time as governor, we’ve worked hard to increase efficiency in managed costs in (the) Medicaid program, and we will continue to do so this year,” he said.

Nixon said that while Medicaid and similar costs will continue to grow, they’re expected to grow at a slower pace than a year ago.

“We are in a process where our management of the Medicaid program is yielding direct benefits,” he said, adding he expected requests for supplemental funding of the program to be far below the level of a year ago.

This is an encouraging development, but an achievement that hardly is Nixon’s alone. As for other budget challenges, Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick thinks roughly $150 million in additional cuts are needed on top of Nixon’s most recent withholdings.

Fitzpatrick accepts that multiple items influence budget trends, including corporate tax policies assailed by Nixon. But his attention is focused on the near future - specifically the rest of the current fiscal year and the next.

The budget chair does not have the option, as Nixon apparently does, to dismiss the looming challenges to our $27 billion budget as hyperbole. He wants to see an improvement in revenue trends and recognizes Medicaid remains a huge expense that must continue to be reined in.

This policy view - boosting revenues through economic expansion while holding down increases in social service spending - is about to get a big test in the coming year.

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