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Another resignation means St. Louis area has just one member on UM Board of Curators

Yvonne Sparks of St. Louis (left) was sworn in as a member of the University of Missouri Board of Curators in December. She resigned from the board this week.
Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 10:10 a.m. Monday with Steward resignation and statement, Graham still on board:

Now the St. Louis area has just one representative on the University of Missouri Board of Curators. And all of the members are white

Following last week's resignation of Yvonne Sparks from St. Louis, David Steward of St. Louis County, a  founder of World Wide Technology, has also resigned from the board. Gov. Jay Nixon's office confirmed the news Monday, releasing this statement:

"As the chairman and founder of one of America’s largest and most well-respected companies, David Steward has brought a unique and valuable perspective to the Board of Curators over the past five years. I thank him for his distinguished service and look forward to appointing another strong and dedicated leader to represent the Second District on the Board."

Later Monday morning, the university released this statement from Steward:

“It has been a great honor to serve the four campuses of the University of Missouri System in the role of curator, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity. However, we have been blessed with substantial opportunities to continue to expand our business globally. This ultimately will create more jobs for the state of Missouri, and I am choosing to make that my primary focus.”

Steward and Sparks had been the only African-American members of the board. With last year's resignation of Ann Covington of Columbia, the board now has three vacancies as it begins its search for a new system president and a new chancellor of the Columbia campus. And the Senate is not expected to take up any more nominations before its adjournment in May.

In the university statement, board chair Pamela Henrickson of Jefferson City said:

“It was a pleasure getting to know David Steward during our time on the board, and he will be greatly missed. David’s passion for both the university and higher education in general, and his outstanding personal story of professional excellence, lent an important perspective to the board. His contributions to the University of Missouri system are much appreciated. We wish him the best.”

Steward had been one of two members on the board from St. Louis County. Maurice Graham of Clayton remains a board member.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said no St. Louis area members remain as curators.

Our original story:

At a time when racial issues are a prominent factor in the governance of the University of Missouri, an African-American female candidate from St. Louis has failed to join the Board of Curators for the second straight year.

And that may remain the case until the legislature adjourns in May.

As a result, the board has just seven members, not the usual nine, and one African American, David Steward of St. Louis County. He was joined briefly last month during the board’s meeting on the university’s St. Louis campus by Yvonne Sparks, an official with the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis. She was even sworn in as a member of the board.

But before the Missouri Senate could vote to confirm her appointment, Sparks resigned earlier this week. In a letter to Gov. Jay Nixon, who had named her to the board in November, she expressed appreciation for the appointment but said it did not fit into her life at what she called “an important and demanding time” for the University of Missouri system.

“After careful consideration of the demands of my professional obligations and those required to engage in the work of the board at the level that I expect of myself,” she wrote, “I have concluded that it is not possible to do both well.”

Referring to when she was sworn in during the curators’ December meeting, Sparks said:

“The moment of taking the oath of office during the meeting at my alma mater, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, was one of my proudest.”

In response, Nixon said in a statement:

“Yvonne Sparks is a highly accomplished leader with a record of outstanding achievements, and I thank her for her service on the Board of Curators. While I’m disappointed that she will not continue to serve as a curator, I respect her decision and her dedication to her role at the St. Louis Federal Reserve. I look forward to appointing a highly qualified Missourian to represent the First District and serve the university in this vitally important role.”

According to legislative rules, if a nominee does not win confirmation in the Senate within 30 calendar days after its session convenes, that person may not serve in the position to which she or he is named.

State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, sponsored Sparks’ nomination in the Senate and serves on the gubernatorial appointments committee. She noted that a lot of nominations were voted on by the committee this past week, and she did not foresee any opposition to the nomination of Sparks.

“I couldn't see anything wrong with her being on the board,” Nasheed said in an interview Friday. “She just quit.

“I think that she would have served well. She would have been a great addition to the board. I don't think that we would have had a problem with her being confirmed. She probably just decided not to move forward with it, and that's her prerogative.”

Two members short

The Board of Curators typically has nine voting members, with at least one from each of the state’s eight congressional districts represented and no more than five members from one political party. They serve staggered six-year terms. It also has a seat for a non-voting student member.

Late last year, a week after Sparks’ nomination was announced, curator Ann Covington of Columbia announced she was leaving the board for personal reasons. That departure, and the resignation of Sparks, leave Pamela Hendrickson of Jefferson City, the board’s current chair, as the only woman on the board.

David Steward
Credit University of Missouri
David Steward

Missouri’s 1st congressional district takes in all of the city of St. Louis and parts of St. Louis County, primarily in the north. Its last representative on the board was Wayne Goode, a longtime Democratic state lawmaker from Normandy, whose term expired in January 2015 with the nomination of Mary Nelson, a black woman who is general counsel for St. Louis Community College.

A Senate committee rejected her nomination at the same time it approved three others from Nixon, all white men who are also lawyers. State Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, who has clashed frequently with Nixon about university business and is running for attorney general, said he did not want so many lawyers on the board.

He also questioned whether Nelson’s position with the community college would post a conflict of interest.

Nasheed, who sponsored Nelson’s nomination in the Senate just as she did for Sparks this year, said at the time that she saw no conflict of interest. She would not speculate about what role race may have played in the vote against Nelson.

Now, Nasheed said, she will continue to seek an African-American candidate to sit on the Board of Curators, though a spokeswoman for the Senate committee said it is unlikely that any more nominees will be considered this session.

“I'm going to keep doing all I can to push for more minorities,” Nasheed said. “As a committee member, it's incumbent on me to get more minorities on boards and commissions. And that's what I'm going to continue to do. I'm going to continue to push for it.”

The University of Missouri’s Board of Curators holds the license for St. Louis Public Radio.

Follow Dale on Twitter: @dalesinger

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.

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