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UM wants public input on search for next president

Millennium Student Center at UMSL
File: Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

With its search committee in place and a desire to stabilize its leadership, the University of Missouri begins public hearings Monday to find out what qualities its next president should have.

Forums are set this week for each of the system’s four campuses, including one from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on Monday at the Millennium Student Center at UMSL.

The co-chair of the university’s presidential search committee, attorney Cheryl Walker of St. Louis, said information gathered at the forums will be used to help the process refine what it will be looking for when it begins recruiting candidates later this year.

Walker said she is going into the process with an open mind.

“I’m really trying to stay unattached to the outcome at this point,” she said, “being open to the feedback we receive in the forums as well as the feedback that we receive as we are individually interacting with the community and when we get together and discuss these amongst ourselves.”

The search committee, working with the firm Isaacson, Miller, is looking for a successor to Tim Wolfe. He resigned in November in the wake of protests about racism on the Columbia campus. The chancellor at Mizzou, R. Bowen Loftin, stepped down the same day.

Later that week, the curators named Mike Middleton, a retired vice chancellor at Mizzou, as interim president. He has said he does not want to be considered a candidate for the permanent job but will stay on as interim as long as he is needed.

Walker’s co-chair of the search committee is Dr. James Whitaker of Kansas City. Other members of the committee include the six members of the Board of Curators (there are three vacancies) as well as representatives of faculty, staff and students from the four campuses.

If Gene Graham of Columbia, who has been nominated to be the system’s student curator, is confirmed by the Missouri Senate, he will also join the committee.

Executive or academic?

While the formal search process gets started, discussion of what the university should be looking for in its next president has begun elsewhere.

In Columbia last week, at a meeting of the Mizzou faculty council, Associate Professor Nicole Monnier had a terse, three-word answer, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune:

“Not Tim Wolfe.”

That vote of no confidence hinged largely on the fact that Wolfe came from the business world, not academia. Faculty members said his background led to a lack of understand of how the university community works and feels, and that in turn resulted in friction between the president and the campus.

There was also concern that publicity over the turmoil at Mizzou could have a negative effect on candidates who might otherwise be interested in the presidency.

“Missouri has been in the news recently,” said Vitor Trindade, associate professor of economics, “and I am worried it will deflect some candidates who won’t apply or even seriously consider us just because we were in the news for so long and they don’t want all this conflict.”

Credit University of Missouri
James Whitaker, left, and Cheryl Walker, co-chairs of the UM presidential search committee

Walker was a curator at the university when Wolfe’s predecessor, Gary Forsee, was chosen in 2008. Like Wolfe, Forsee came from a career in business, not in academia. He resigned in 2011 to care for his ailing wife, leading to the search that resulted in Wolfe becoming president in 2012.

Walker said that the Forsee search was conducted solely by members of the board, and she expects that the wider membership this time around could cast a wider net.

“There were not members of the search committee who were not sitting curators,” she said. “And so as a result of that fact, and how this one is composed, I would venture to say will make it a different process.”

But Walker said she did not want to comment on whether an academic background would be preferable for the next president. Instead, she wants to hear what participants in the forums have to say, then discuss the input with other committee members later this month.

Pam Henrickson, head of the board of curators, said in St. Louis in December that she hopes the search can be completed by the end of this calendar year. Walker agreed with that timetable.

Other public forums are scheduled for earlier Monday at Rolla, Wednesday in Columbia and Friday in Kansas City. All forums will be livestreamed, recorded and posted to the university’s presidential search website following the events.

Anyone who cannot attend a forum but wants to suggest characteristics or qualifications that are desirable in the new president may submit comments via email to umpresidentialsearch@umsystem.edu before April 8.

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.