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UM spells out qualities it wants in its new president

The University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo. will be subject to a plan to eliminate 16 degree options. Much of the elimination will come through merging programs to create new degrees. (via Flickr/Adam Procter)
The University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo. will be subject to a plan to eliminate 16 degree options. Much of the elimination will come through merging programs to create new degrees. (via Flickr/Adam Procter)

If the University of Missouri system can find its dream candidate for president, she or he will have a track record of success in education but also be able to deal with leaders in politics and business and communicate effectively with the public.

And strong leadership experience, plus a sensitivity to diversity, would be good as well.

After discussion that added the importance of political savvy to the dozen bullet points in its official list, the search committee charged with finding a successor to Tim Wolfe gave unanimous approval to the qualifications list Thursday. It met by teleconference as part of the Board of Curators meeting on the university’s Rolla campus.

The list was drawn up after public forums were held on all four of the system’s campuses, plus comments and suggested were solicited statewide. University officials have said they hope to have a new president selected by the end of the year.

The emphasis on political acumen that was added by the committee reflected a discussion held during the morning session of the curators’ meeting. That centered on the budget negotiations going on in Jefferson City and the hope that money for the university that was cut by the House will survive after it was restored by the Senate.

Among the qualifications listed by the committee are:

  • Fluency in and a passion for public higher education and the specific mission of the University of Missouri
  • A strong interest in the development and success of students, faculty and staff
  • Acumen needed to cultivate political, civic and business relationships, as well as a track record in winning resources and support from public agencies
  • A commitment to research and the pursuit of academic excellence
  • A command of communications and public relations, to spread the word of the university’s vision to the people it serves.
  • A multicultural outlook and an awareness and sensitivity for all people
  • A track record of strong leadership in a complex organization
  • Judgment in business that can foster improvement and accountability in an organization

St. Louis attorney Cheryl Walker, who co-chairs the search committee with Kansas City physician James Whitaker, said the forums on the university’s campuses were helpful in putting together the final qualifications list.
“We feel the fruitful, candid conversations brought forth a comprehensive list of suggestions for future candidates to be sought by the search firm,” she said.

Whitaker added:

“A university president must establish strong relationships with each constituent group during his or her tenure. These recommendations, from the discussions statewide, have really laid the groundwork for expectations in the next chief to lead the university forward.”

Still no tuition approved

Earlier in the meeting, curators discussed tuition and fees, which have not yet been set for the fall semester.

Typically, they are approved in February after an initial presentation in December. But this year, because of uncertainty about state appropriations and continuing debate in Jefferson City about the budget, no vote has been taken yet. It has tentatively been set for May, after lawmakers complete budget negotiations.

Brian Burnett, the university’s vice president for finance, told the curators that he is optimistic that cuts to the system that were voted by the House would be reversed in the conference committee and the increases sought by the governor and approved by the Senate would prevail.

He noted that the situation in Missouri is bright compared with support for campuses elsewhere.

“Given all the challenges we have in Missouri,” Burnett said, “ I’m just very thankful we have a budget that’s close to the finish line, a budget that’s looking positive for the University of Missouri, and we all get to wake up each day and not have to worry about whether the state’s even going to fund public higher education, like they are next door in Illinois.”

Still, he noted that expected drops in enrollment at St. Louis and Columbia would eat into the university’s revenue.

We all get to wake up each day and not have to worry about whether the state's even going to fund public higher education, like they are next door in Illinois. -- Brian Burnett, UM VP for finance

Part of that decline, Burnett said, comes from changing demographics and fewer high school graduates in Missouri. But fallout continues from demonstrations last fall in Columbia, he added.

Hank Foley, interim chancellor at Mizzou, said applications from African-American students have dropped, though efforts have begun to step up recruitment of minority graduate students and faculty members.

Interim President Mike Middleton said he thought the effects from the protests over racism on campus have subsided.

“I think the future looks promising in that regard,” he said. “Things have calmed down significantly, and if we can get some of the items accomplished that Hank mentioned, I think we’ll bounce back rather quickly.”

Both Foley and Tom George, chancellor of the St. Louis campus, noted that Illinois schools have attracted a share of students who normally may have considered the University of Missouri instead.

George added that fewer transfers from St. Louis Community College, where enrollment has dropped sharply in recent years, also hurt the numbers at UMSL, as did the decision by Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville to charge in-state tuition for Missouri residents.

“That’s made a major difference in recruitment,” George said of the policy change by SIUE. “In North County, we didn’t used to have to recruit. All types of students automatically came to UMSL. Now, we have to recruit in our own environs in North County.”

Curators asked about recruitment in general, and chancellors agreed that would be a place where investing in more personnel would be worth the cost.

The curators’ meeting concludes Friday.

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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