Government Relations

UM Legislative Update Newsletter

June 29, 2007

 Legislator Profile: Sen. Gary Nodler

Gary NodlerPartnerships, collaboration and unity are themes frequently heard in the higher education community, and they are the main priorities for Sen. Gary Nodler (R-Joplin), who became chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee this month after former Sen. Chuck Gross (R-St. Charles) resigned to take another position outside of state government.

Nodler, who is serving his second term in the Senate, is no stranger to higher education after chairing the Senate Education Committee and sponsoring the omnibus higher education bill, SB389, which passed the legislature this year and was recently signed by the governor. He also chaired the Senate Interim Committee on the Cost of College Education last year, and now turns his focus to the overall future spending needs of the state.

“Higher education is absolutely critical to all aspects of the state’s future,” he said. “It provides opportunities for educational development, for cultural enhancement, for research, and it helps us be part of the national defense effort. It even impacts our communications and transmissions systems. These are all linked to higher education in one way or another.”

Nodler says higher education’s greatest challenge will be to understand the classroom of the next century, and how to merge new technologies with traditional learning. “We have virtual classrooms, but there are also the intangible values of instruction in the classroom, and how that relates to social development, for example,” he said. “We have to figure out that balance.”

He also sees the University of Missouri playing a central role. “The University of Missouri is the lead higher education institution in the state, and it is the core of the professional development and education for Missouri,” Nodler said. “The responsibilities the state imposes on the University of Missouri are tremendous; for example, research is a very important component.”

Nodler also appreciates the inclusion of economic development in the University’s mission. “All institutions are an integral part of the economic development of our state, largely because the pace of technology is changing and we see the rapid movement in training requirements and what is needed to work in emerging professions. We need to move people into the workforce who are exposed to and aware of the concept of lifelong learning.”

The University of Missouri educates students and trains professionals, but also provides unique partnership opportunities, Nodler notes. “UM is a partner with Missouri Southern State University and Crowder College in Neosho, the two main institutions in my district. Eagle-Picher, one of my largest employers in my district, is now working with MU and UMR to use nanotechnology research to create new power sources for many applications. Those types of partnerships that benefit all people of the state are important.”

Nodler admits that his early interest in higher education was parochial – he wanted to help Missouri Southern and Crowder with some of the needs they had. In his early years in the Senate he began to learn much more about the broader needs of higher education. Gov. Bob Holden then asked him to serve on the Committee for the Future of Higher Education, which expanded his experience with post-secondary education.

“It was an evolution, but somewhere over the past four or five years it appeared to me that there was a real vacuum – a real void – in higher education in this state as far as leadership, direction, vision and purpose,” Nodler said. “We had institutions fighting each other and competing against each other, and we had a very weak Coordinating Board that simply did not have the capacity to lead. I saw an opportunity to fill that void and try to make some things happen.”

He introduced legislation over the past three sessions that strengthened the Coordinating Board, and many of those provisions were part of SB389. He also supported efforts to increase financial aid and scholarships, increase accountability and performance measures, and provide capital improvements. “We were able to incorporate all of those things into the omnibus bill this year, and I believe the sum of this bill is much greater than its parts,” he said.

As he now takes the helm of the committee with great impact over operating funding, he is ready to do what he can to provide support to the state’s higher education institutions.

“It appeared to me that the underfunding of the institutions had become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he observed. “The ability of our institutions to do things and excel was clearly impaired by the shortage of financial support. By strengthening the CBHE and encouraging more efficiencies at the institutional level, we can get a start on improving things.”

He also sees a commitment to new resources, which will come as welcome news to higher education leaders and supporters in the state. “We want the institutions to do better with what they get now, but we also know that, at the end of the day, they are still not going to have enough to do what they need to do. We will be working to add additional operating funds in the future.”

SB389 will provide a better focus on institution funding in the future, he said, and also will help to increase financial aid, scholarships and provide capital improvements. But Nodler said he believes the redefining of the CBHE mission will have the biggest impact in the future. “The CBHE is better able to advance the financial interests of all of the institutions here in the Capitol than if all of the institutions try to do it on their own,” he said. “The more we can get a unified approach, the better.”

Nodler spent several years in Washington, D.C., as an aid to former Congressman Gene Taylor, and also has run a cable television company and worked in the U.S. Small Business Administration. He now turns his energies to the state budget, and is looking forward to helping the University of Missouri and other higher education institutions succeed.

“I have long felt that a lot of energy was wasted in the higher education community in battling imaginary foes. From name changes to boundary disputes, there were a lot of fights going on,” Nodler said. “My vision or dream is to get all of the siblings in the family to recognize the strengths in numbers and unity and to embrace collaboration and cooperation so that they are all supported well.”

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