It's uncomfortable when you're friends with a couple and then that couple breaks up acrimoniously.
The couple -- who are now are a pair of singles -- often expect former friends of the couple to take the side of one of the singles, but neither both. It can be tolerable as a former friend of the couple to be social with either of the new singles individually, but if you happen to run into both of them at a public event, it can be extremely awkward. Whose side do you choose?
It would appear that this is a little like the situation between Southeast Missouri State University and Three Rivers Community College.
A few years ago they were a couple, the educational equivalent of BFFs -- Best Friends Forever. SEMO has been and still is a BFF with another junior college -- Mineral Area -- so it made sense that the University be a BFF with Three Rivers as well.
Things seemed to go smoothly at first. Back in 2004, TRCC agreed to share space at the University's three Bootheel Education centers. Their faculty would teach a number of freshmen and sophomore level classes and in exchange pay the University a facilities-use fee.
But then SEMO sent TRCC the bill for their first semester using the University's facilities. Three Rivers claimed the $61,205 charge was too much and paid SEMO about $10,000 less. SEMO didn't like this and since TRCC refused to pay the disputed amount the University severed its ties with the community college.
From there, the situation deteriorated almost as fast as Paris Hilton un-BFFing her BFF Nicole Richey. Or was it Nicole who un-BFFed Paris? I guess it really doesn't matter.
SEMO's snub didn't appear to phase Three Rivers. They found alternative locations to conduct their classes in Kennett, Malden and Sikeston. And TRCC quickly lawyered-up and sued SEMO for breach of contract. Good ol' litigation, possibly the fastest way to end a friendship.
While the lawyers played their lawyer games, the state commissioner of higher education became involved and spent a year trying to mediate a resolution between the two. He was not successful.
Due in large part to the bitterness between the former BFFs, a coalition was formed in 2007 in which 11 people and organizations pledged seventy grand towards conducting a higher education needs analysis for Cape Girardeau County. Did Cape need a junior college was the $70,000 question. SEMO and TRCC were part of the coalition, of course.
In the spring of 2008, change came to the Three Rivers board of trustees. Its attorney resigned and two board members were not re-elected. By June, Three Rivers' refreshed board had fired its president and dropped its lawsuit against SEMO. The newspaper in Poplar Bluff published that TRCC squandered $50,000 in legal fees on the feud. How much SEMO spent defending its position was apparently never reported by the news media.
Last November, Three Rivers hired a new president.
This past spring the report commissioned by the coalition was finally released. It confirmed what everyone in the area already knew. Cape Girardeau County could use more higher-education options.
In May relations between the former BFFs seemed to thaw a little. TRCC and SEMO signed an agreement to establish a joint bachelor's degree program in social work.
But then, the sparring that had virtually disappeared between the former BFFs, suddenly gained new vigor.
In August, both SEMO and TRCC proposed competing community college plans to the coalition for Cape Girardeau County. SEMO would work with another member of the coalition and their long-time BFF -- Mineral Area College -- while Three Rivers would go it alone. Both proposals would be three-year trials.
About this same time TRCC got a new BFF in the form of the city of Jackson. The Jackson Board of Alderman approved a 15-acre land donation to Three Rivers if they would build a center in their city. The Alderman apparently felt it was OK to snub SEMO and didn't make them the same offer. I guess Jackson is no longer a BFF with SEMO.
The coalition is scheduled to meet and pick one of these two plans by the end of the month. Three Rivers Community College president Devin Stephenson has been quoted as saying that "A proposal that does not include [Three Rivers] will not be approved."
Some might say that them's fightin' words.
I certainly hope not. We've had enough fighting. We've had enough litigating. Both sides need to put their petty little disagreements in the past and do what we -- the taxpayers -- expect from them.