Missouri Governor Vetoes

FILE - In this May 13, 2016, file photo, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon speaks during a news conference at the conclusion of the legislative session at the Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo. Missouri lawmakers are set to expand Nixon's already historic status as the state's most overridden governor, a record the Democrat earned after years of clashing with a Legislature under virtually unchecked Republican control. Since Nixon took office in 2009, lawmakers have overridden 83 of his vetoes of bills and budget expenditures _ nearly four times the combined total of all other governors' overrides dating back to Missouri's territorial days in the early 1800s. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

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As governor, attorney general and state senator, Jay Nixon worked 30 years for Missouri. Now, he's suing it.

Nixon is the attorney for Hillsdale College, a small liberal arts school in southern Michigan that is trying to get $5 million that was bequeathed to the University of Missouri in a 2002 will.

And for its part, the university is fighting hard to hang onto the money.

The lawsuit revolves around the last will and testament of 1926 Mizzou graduate Sherlock Hibbs, who died in 2002.

Hibbs' will stipulated that Mizzou should receive $5 million to establish three chairs and three professorships in its business school.

Specifically, those posts had to be filled by people who espouse the economic theories of Ludwig von Mises and his "Austrian School," which supports free markets and limited government.

The most renowned disciple of the Austrian School is economist and philosopher Friedrich Hayek, winner of the 1974 Nobel Prize. His 1944 book "Road to Serfdom" has been influential in libertarian and conservative politics.

To insure compliance, Mizzou is required to submit a report every four years to Hillsdale, showing that it is adhering to Hibbs' terms.

The will dictates that if Mizzou does not follow Hibbs' wishes, Hillsdale gets the money. 

Nixon, who has worked for the Clayton law firm of Dowd Bennett since September 2018, earned both his bachelor's degree and law degree from Mizzou.

He said that Hillsdale takes its oversight role "very seriously" and does not believe the university has met its obligations.

Mizzou officials disagreed with Hillsdale's assessment.

University spokesman Christian Basi said the university is "very, very careful about following the expressed wishes of donors.

"We've had this money since roughly 2002, and there have been different professors over the years who've filled the (will's mandated) roles," Basi said.

Two positions currently are vacant, but Basi described that as "regular turnover." He said both job openings have been posted.

Basi also said that each professor is required to sign an agreement stating they are "dedicated and articulate disciples" of the Ludwig von Mises Austrian School of Economics.

Hillsdale officials counter that Mizzou simply is trying to qualify for the money without embracing Hibbs' intentions.

"Rather than comply with Mr. Hibbs’ explicit wishes, the University of Missouri searched for a workaround," a statement from Hillsdale said.

To that point, Hillsdale provided emails from 2006 that were sent by former Trulaske College of Business dean Bruce J. Walker.

In a March 26 email, Walker wrote to two colleagues: "Let's discuss and try to determine what we must do to satisfy the conditions in Mr. Hibbs' will without making this too burdensome for everyone involved but without the risking losing $5 million."

In that same email, Walker said, "… the Austrian School is quite controversial. We didn't want to wade into that controversy, so we focused on some Austrian tenets that are compatible with what we do in our business school."

Walker also notes that Hibbs was "rather rigid in his economic and political views … ," but then concedes, "he was actually quite a pleasant fellow." 

In an April 2006 email, as the effort to compile the report to Hillsdale was wrapping up, Walker sent an email that included the professors in the Hibbs positions.

Asking for their signatures on the agreements, Walker told them they all should work to finish the report "without publicity, use of much more of all of our time, and without a challenge by Hillsdale … ."

As a final line, Walker reminds the recipients that the $5 million is beneficial to the university, the business school "and most importantly, each of you."

When asked if the conflict was political, Nixon shied away from that term and described it as "philosophical."

He said the Austrian School is a "profound and legitimate" economic philosophy.

"And where better to discuss these things than on a college campus?" he said.

Joe Holleman • 314-340-8254

@stlsherpa on Twitter

jholleman@post-dispatch.com

This article originally ran on stltoday.com.

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