It seems almost unbelievable to me that one of my old alma maters, the University of Missouri, would generate two highly controversial news stories within a week, but that appears to be what has happened.
Just a few days ago I posted a commentary in this space on the sudden resignations of the school's President and Chancellor over their seeming failure to adequately address incidents of racial strife on the university's main campus in Columbia. Now, before those two even have had time to clean out their desks and surrender their parking spots, word comes of another publicity-generating conflict at stoic old Mizzou.
State Senator Kurt Schaefer, a Republican who happens to represent Columbia in the upper chamber of the Missouri Legislature and who has a seat on something called the "Sanctity of Life" committee, is enraged over research being conducted by a doctoral student at the University.
Last year the state legislature passed a law requiring women who seek information about obtaining an abortion to wait 72-hours before being able to get the actual procedure. The law is similar to legislation in several other states and has the apparent intended purpose of ultimately decreasing the number of elective abortions performed in the state. Missouri also has a law on the books prohibiting the use of public funds to promote non-life-saving abortions.
The target of Senator Schaefer's wrath is Lindsay Ruhr, a doctoral student in the university's School of Social Work. Ms. Ruhr is also an employee of Planned Parenthood, an association that seems to particularly incense the senator from Columbia. Ms. Ruhr is writing her dissertation on the impact that the 72-hour waiting period has on women in the state. The senator sees that as "a marketing aid for Planned Parenthood - one that is funded, in part or in whole, by taxpayer dollars."
Senator Schaefer has sent a letter to the university's chancellor, who has since resigned, demanding documents regarding the project's approval. He feels the research will promote elective abortions, and the university, being publicly funded, should not fund the research. A university official countered that the research is being conducted at Planned Parenthood - where the student is employed - and that she receives no scholarships from MU and their is no school grant money tied to the research.
Another aspect of this situation that seems to be fanning Senator Schaefer's ire is that Ms. Ruhr's academic advisor is Dr. Marjorie Sable, the chair of the Social Work Department. Dr. Sable is a member of the Board of Directors of Planned Parenthood for Kansas and Mid-Missouri.
Dr. Sable was a professor of mine fifteen years ago when I was a student in MU's School of Social Work. In addition to being a great teacher and administrator, she is one tough cookie who will be able to take his best punches, keep smiling, and go right on helping to secure our future through the creation of bright and caring social workers. Margie had a profound impact on my development as a social worker, and I often turned to her for advice and guidance even after graduation. If Margie Sable is guiding Ms. Ruhr in her research, the resulting product will be a quality and well-respected indicator of the impact of the law mandating the 72-hour wait.
It is curious that Senator Schaefer wants to nuke this research. If I were a member of the Missouri Legislature, I would want to know the effects of the votes that I cast - and I would not fear the release of research that might run counter to my long-held beliefs. Education and research are tools for growth.
(As a political aside, I mentioned last week that my community of West Plains is considering offering internet access as a public utility, a move that would likely have a negative impact on companies already providing internet service in the area. I also noted that a member of the state legislature had put forth a legislative proposal to prohibit cities and communities from providing internet access as a public utility, but that move had failed - at least for the time being. The legislator who proposed that failed legislation was State Senator Kurt Schaefer. A friend has since shown me that the bill was originally constructed by the creeps at ALEC, a group that writes bills with a pro-business slant for members of various state legislatures.)
Senator Schaefer is an announced Republican candidate for Attorney General of Missouri in next year's state election. I look forward to having the opportunity to vote against him.