Dueling colleges

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The competition between Southeast Missouri State University and Three Rivers Community College for Southeast Missouri students has become more war-like than collegial.

First Southeast president Dr. Ken Dobbins led a southern foray to announce that the university intends to eliminate TRCC courses at its three Bootheel higher education centers beginning this summer. According to TRCC, the community college received the news half an hour before Dobbins made it public in Sikeston.

Southeast asserts that $800,000 in annual losses at its higher education centers in Sikeston, Kennett and Malden mean the university has no choice but to take over teaching duties at the centers.

In response, TRCC filed a complaint with the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education. Dr. Gregory Fitch, the state's higher education commissioner, came in to mediate. A meeting between Fitch, Dobbins and TRCC president Dr. John Cooper produced a tentative agreement in which the two schools would share costs at the centers.

But TRCC's board of trustees, in a Sunday afternoon meeting, authorized its attorneys to do whatever is necessary to stop Southeast's plan, including a lawsuit. Two days later, TRCC announced it would begin offering classes in Scott City, Southeast's back yard.

If those were shots across the university's bow, the full attack came a day later when TRCC filed a nine-point civil suit asking for $25,000 in damages and unspecified punitive damages from the university. The suit alleges the university is breaching its contract with TRCC and that the university misused the state's A-Plus scholarship program.

The university has 30 days to file a written response. Blood, in the form of attorneys' fees, is being spilled. Good will is being sacrificed too.

Whether or not Southeast's actions make financial sense, its handling of the situation so far has been puzzling. TRCC was just as fast on the trigger in filing its lawsuit. Surely, this disagreement could have been negotiated without resorting to threats.

Now students have been caught in the middle.

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