KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Despite positive reviews, popularity among students and strong fundraising numbers, the president of Northwest Missouri State University ends his term at the end of this month.
NWMSU’s Board of Regents voted in April to not renew Dr. John Jasinski’s employment contract. The move came days after he released a letter suggesting he expected to be fired and questioning why the board would vote him out.
“Northwest’s Board of Regents has chosen not to renew my contract that ends June 30,” Jasinski wrote in his “All that Jazz” newsletter. “The Board chair indicated this to me verbally and told me it has nothing to do with the institution’s or my performance,” he wrote, saying he was told, “The Board wishes to turn to a new chapter.“
A Secretive Decision
After Jasinski announced he expected to be fired, he was. The Board of Regents held a final vote to officially not renew his contract later that month.
But at the same time the board was moving to remove him, some board members were actually trying to extend Jasinski’s tenure.
Board members Deborah Roach and Roxanna Swaney voted to offer Jasinski a five-year contract extension. But the other board members voted no, according to board minutes, and Jasinski wasn’t retained.
“I am 100% behind Dr. Jasinski and I always will be,” Roach said in an open letter to the Northwest community. “I have the utmost respect for Dr. J.”
Despite being on the board, Roach said she wasn’t told why the others didn’t want to offer Jasinski a new contract.
“If the decision was not based on job performance, not political-based, that leaves one reason: personal,” Roach claimed.
Was the issue “personal” or “personnel”?
Board of Regents Chair John Moore said the decision to oust Jasinski was related to personnel matters, not personal ones.
“Because this is a personnel matter, I will not go into specifics on why I voted to allow Dr. Jasinski’s contract to expire this summer,” he said. “Instead of engaging in a tit for tat campaign about the president’s strengths and weaknesses, I’ve chosen to stay above the fray by acknowledging his accomplishments and wishing him well.”
Patrick Harr, who’s served as team physician for Northwest athletics for nearly 50 years, says he’s frustrated by the lack of information put forth by the board.
“First they said they wanted to go in a different direction. Then they said, ‘well no we want to go in the same direction for the university, we just want a different person to do it, but they don’t say why. What happened? What’s the issue with Dr. J?”
Questions surround board’s independence
More than 700 people signed a petition asking the board to renew Jasinski’s contract.
That petition drive, organized by Northwest booster Nina Dewhirst, touts record 2021 enrollment at NWMSU and a successful fundraising campaign that brought in $55 million dollars.
Dewhirst is now questioning the motives of the university’s Board of Regents. She wrote a letter to Missouri Governor Mike Parson asking for more state oversight of the board and its members who are appointed by the governor and approved by the state senate.
Board of Regents rules state that “not more than four voting members shall belong to any one political party.”
The current make-up of the board is one Democrat – Roach, three Republicans – Roxanna Swaney, Mel Tjeersma and Jason Klindt, and three who identify as “Independent” – Moore, Stephen Coppinger, and Shanda Durbin.
But of those “Independents,” two have donated to Republican candidates or causes.
Coppinger donated $500 to U.S. Senator Josh Hawley’s campaign in 2018 and Durbin, who works at Herzog Contracting, donated $1,500 in October 2020 to a pollical action committee named “Herzog Contracting.”
More than 96% of the money donated to the Herzog Contracting PAC goes to Republican candidates, according to The Center for Responsive Politics.
Coppinger sent a statement to FOX4, saying, “I have donated to both parties and like the majority of Missourians, I don’t consider myself to be a member of either party.”
Durbin did not respond to multiple emails seeking comment.
Dewhirst’s petition asks Parson to consider changes to the way the regents are appointed by changing the application form to reflect the state’s four recognized political parties (Republican, Democrat, Libertarian and Constitution) and having prospective regents attest to their party affiliation.
Gov. Parson didn’t respond to FOX4’s questions about the board of regents.
The state legislature and the governor could strengthen the statutes around board appointees, according to Matt Harris, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Park University.
“The state legislature with the governor can change these laws and rearrange the organization of these boards,” Harris said.
As for the political questions, Harris said it might be tricky to prove that a board member claiming to be an Independent is not actually an Independent.
“In a two-party system, even if you say you’re an Independent, a lot of times you may be giving to people who are Democrats and Republicans because that’s who wins elections.”
Harris says change may come slowly for anyone upset with the current board.
“We have a lot of pieces of our democracy where we basically rely on our elected officials to appoint people to various boards and stuff, but when people are upset and when there’s something that people feel is wrong in some instances these boards are kind of insulated from immediate impact,” he said.
“Make it known to your elected officials that this is important to you and then over time you might see that change.”
No matter what the fallout at NWMSU, Jasinski is moving on. He starts a new job as interim provost at Missouri State University July 1.
Meantime, at NWMSU, Dr. Clarence Green will take over as interim president and a search is underway for Jasinski’s permanent replacement.
Moore said the process of hiring a new president will be transparent and he hopes that top talent will apply for the position.
“Transparency and seeking input is certainly a priority of mine during this process. The broader Bearcat community is very passionate about their university and I would like to capitalize on that as we conduct our search. I believe that passion and support will be a significant attraction to candidates,” he said.
Recently retired mass communications professor Fred Lamer has his doubts.
“How hard is it going to be to attract a good, qualified individual to that position, to that office given what’s happened,” said Lamer “You’ve got to ask yourself, is a person that has those aspirations, that’s qualified, are they going to risk stepping into that situation?”
The board of regents is scheduled to meet and discuss the presidential search Thursday.