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UM search committee still expects new president by year’s end

Mizzou's Columns
File Photo| Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

The committee searching for a new president for the University of Missouri system is working to narrow the list of candidates from a few dozen before starting interviews.

Committee co-chair Jim Whitaker of Kansas City said Wednesday the group made up of the system’s curators plus representatives of all four campuses still hopes to have a successor to Tim Wolfe chosen by the end of the year.

He said the candidates so far have come not only from higher education but from other areas such as business and the military. He said there appears to be no shortage of people who want the system’s top spot.

“There seems to be real interest in this job,”Whitaker said, “and I think it speaks to the interest in people who are qualified who want to enter into this situation now, which is challenging on the one hand but is an opportunity on the other hand.”

The search committee for a new president is made up of the nine members of the Board of Curators, plus representatives from Columbia, Kansas City, Rolla and St. Louis. It has held forums on all four campuses to get ideas from the public on the qualities a new president should have, and it has met to come up with a list of priorities that the incoming president would have.

According to the timeline set at the beginning of the process, the search committee is expected to wrap up its review of applicants by the end of the summer, then begin interviews. Those preliminary sessions are expected to end with the names of two or three finalists presented to the curators, who will make the final selection.

Whitaker said the original goal of having a president chosen by the end of the year is still the plan.

“We want to be sure that we do our darnedest in every way to make that happen,” he said. “And if we don't have the candidate that we can really hire, we're not going to hire, but we really hoping to accomplish it by the end of the year for sure.”

As in the search that ended up in the hiring of Wolfe, the selection process is expected to remain confidential until the hiring of a new president is announced. Whitaker said he understands that some people might like more transparency, so the public knows the names of finalists. But, he added, the secrecy is a case of respect for the privacy of the applicants.

“These candidates have their existing jobs,” Whitaker said. “It's a delicate matter. There isn't any one perfect way. This is the way we decided as a committee that makes the most sense.”

Asked whether more openness would give outsiders the chance to alert the university to potential problems that may not surface during the selection process, he said:

“We have a large committee. We have a very, very highly regarded search firm. Our task is to really do in-depth vetting of the candidates. I think it's the feeling right now that we need to respect the confidentiality of these candidates and not in any way violate that.”

Wolfe resigned last fall in the wake of racial protests on the Columbia campus. On the same day, R. Bowen Loftin stepped down from his position as chancellor at Mizzou. Both posts have been filled by interims since then – Michael Middleton as system president and Hank Foley as chancellor. Middleton has said he is not interested in the presidential job on a permanent basis.

Since last fall, the system has initiated programs on diversity and inclusion to try to improve the climate and culture on its campuses.

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.