Felton was the first student representative on the UM System Board of Curators.
In 1984, as the University of Missouri Board of Curators’ first student representative, Jay Felton took his historic appointment seriously. But before it was official, during the press conference to announce the final seven candidates, his casual attire belied the notion.
“Everyone showed up in suits except me,” says Felton, BA ’86. “I was on my way to class, so I was wearing shorts, a T-shirt and a backpack — I was the only undergrad in the group.”
Felton, a political science major and a Republican farm boy from Maryville, Missouri, was a junior honors student when former Missouri Gov. Christopher “Kit” Bond selected him. The appointment was not without controversy — some Mizzou professors complained that a faculty representative might be more appropriate.
“Some [administrators] were supportive, and some were condescending,” Felton says. “I didn’t take it personally. I made sure I did everything I could do to show the people who had worked so hard to put [a student] in place that it benefited the university.”
Felton was no wallflower; he spoke out at board meetings. In addition, he visited friends at the other three University of Missouri System campuses, spoke to numerous student groups and fashioned a makeshift office in an unused Lewis and Clark Hall room.
During Felton’s time on the board, the group advocated for the Bright Flight program, linked tuition increases to inflation and began the process of divestiture of university investments in South Africa, which practiced apartheid at the time.
Now Felton is a partner at Lathrop & Gage LLP, a Kansas City, Missouri, firm co-founded by Gardiner Lathrop, son of MU’s founding president, John Hiram Lathrop. Felton represents multiple Fortune 500 companies in the U.S., as well as a number of agricultural companies in the Midwest, and still helps run the Maryville family farm where he grew up.
“I considered other institutions when I was younger, but in the end, my ties to the state and my ties to the university were just too strong,” Felton says. “Going to Mizzou was a dream come true.”