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UM presidential search ‘going well’ but no name yet

"The Columns" on Francis Quadrangle at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo.
(via Flickr/Adam Procter)
"The Columns" on Francis Quadrangle at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo.

After lengthy fly-in sessions in St. Louis and Kansas City to meet prospective candidates and narrow the list, the head of the University of Missouri Board of Curators will say only that the search for a new system president “is going well.”

Pam Henrickson refrained from giving any more specific information after the curators met at the university’s Kansas City campus on Friday.

“We’re very pleased with our progress so far,” she told reporters. “The candidates have been very exciting.”

The timetable to choose a successor to Tim Wolfe, who resigned last November after racial unrest at Mizzou, calls for the new president to be named by the end of the year, and a university spokesman said the school remains confident it will meet that deadline.

Unlike the search for Wolfe, which involved only curators, the new search has included representatives from all four of the system’s campuses. Henrickson praised that decision.

“The expanded search committee has just been fabulous,” she said. “It has been a much more collaborative process. There has not been a stratification of curators and non-curators. We’ve worked together as a team and shared ideas among all of us.

“Everyone is bringing new viewpoints to the table, and that’s what’s exciting about it.”

Asked about why the process has been conducted in private, with no plan to reveal any candidates’ names until the new president is introduced to the public, Henrickson said the university didn’t want to put anyone in an awkward position with a current employer.

“The whole purpose of the secrecy is to make the candidates feel comfortable,” she said, “so they can come forward without their endangering their current status.”

In earlier discussions, members of the search committee have said that despite turmoil at the university, the presidential position has drawn a lot of positive attention.

“There seems to be real interest in this job,” the co-chair of the search committee, Jim Whitaker of Kansas City, said in August, “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.”

Asked Friday whether she felt that previous academic experience is a requirement for anyone who becomes president of the system – experience that the most recent presidents, Wolfe and Gary Forsee, did not have – Henrickson said:

“That’s certainly a factor, but not a deciding factor. We are obviously looking for a president who will lead this university forward. That’s one of the highest criteria. “We want someone that will instill confidence in all of our constituency groups – the legislature, the alumni, the students, the faculty and the public at large.”

UMSL unionization

At the news conference, Middleton was asked about the university’s stance toward efforts of faculty on the St. Louis campus to join a union. He was decidedly unenthusiastic.

“I think we have a shared governance system at the University of Missouri system that is well equipped to handle the concerns of faculty, students and administrators,” he said. “I do question the need to bring in a third party to be engaged in our fairly well-established process of shared governance.

“I would rather relate directly with our faculty than to have to relate to a third party to address their concerns.”

'I would rather relate directly with our faculty than to have to relate to a third party to address their concerns.' -- Interim UM President Mike Middleton, on possible faculty unionization at UMSL

Faculty leaders who have been active in the union movement said Thursday they had filed documentation that could trigger an election that could give the Service Employees International Union the opportunity to form a chapter at UMSL that would include full-time and part-time faculty members.

When the SEIU has worked to organize part-time faculty at other campuses, the reaction has ranged from opposition at Webster University, where the proposal was defeated, to a neutral stance, at Washington University, to acceptance, at St. Louis Community College.

A university spokesman said the system is still working on rules and procedures that would govern any union election if it occurs.

Middleton said that he understands that papers to trigger an election have not been officially filed with the state, and “when that occurs, we will respond appropriately.”

But, he added, “we’re not union busters.”

Racial unrest

In his regular address to the curators’ meeting, Middleton spoke of the system’s continuing efforts to improve diversity and inclusion at the four campuses. His comments came in the wake of an incident last month in Columbia, where the Delta Upsilon fraternity was suspended after black students were the target of racial slurs.

Middleton repeated his belief from earlier meetings that the university is under a microscope to see how it handles the issue, given the unrest that forced the departure of Wolfe last year.

University of Missouri system President Mike Middleton prepares to testify Wednesday before the Joint Committee on Education.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Interim UM President Mike Middleton

“It’s fair to say that the nation is watching us closely,” he said, “to see how we respond to the challenges put before us last fall. Our college and university colleagues across the country are looking to us for answers, for strategies toward greater diversity and inclusion.”

And, he noted, the Missouri is hardly alone in having to confront the problem.

“I have participated in dialogues across the country,” he said, “and it is clear to me that our experiences are not unique. The University of Missouri has become a  real laboratory of innovation and success in boldly addressing our challenges, with sensitivity and with determination, and I’m convinced that we will emerge from this experience much stronger than ever.

“These conversations aren’t over, and the progress won’t stop here.”

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.