As he begins visiting all four campuses in the University of Missouri system, incoming president Mun Choi is taking time to listen and learn about many of the issues facing the school.
But he made clear during a visit to the St. Louis campus on Tuesday that he intends to make the university a destination for students from all over who are seeking a world-class education in a changing environment, and he intends for UM to be active in the communities it serves.
“I think community engagement is so key on so many levels for a land grant institution,” Choi told reporters after a reception at the UMSL student center. “Some of the programs that I would like to help lead, with the four campuses, will truly engage with the local community, the state as well as beyond, and develop global partnerships.”
Choi currently is provost at the University of Connecticut. He was hired as president of UM after a lengthy nationwide search and starts his new job on March 1 at a base salary of $530,000; his contract runs through June 30, 2022.
At the UMSL reception, Chancellor Tom George hailed Choi as the “right person at the right time” and praised his spectacular credentials. Pamela Henrickson, who heads the university’s Board of Curators, cited his experience and energy that will help bring change and innovation to the system.
Choi, himself, cited the power of higher education to elevate students’ stature in life and prepare them for a “dynamic world in which disruption will become the norm.”
In his opening remarks, he specifically mentioned Ferguson and Normandy – references that pleased Normandy Mayor Patrick Green, who has worked closely with UMSL on community projects.
“I think because we’re seeing a transitional change within the university, with leadership,” Green said, “that it’s important to know that the president is on board with the chancellor, and also the curators. We're hearing that. That's what's good. That's good for everyone.”
Pledging to continue to make the system’s campuses welcoming and inclusive — an effort that intensified after the racial incidents at Mizzou last fall that led to the departure of President Tim Wolfe – Choi said he would help heal a disconnect between students and university officials.
“My goal is to visit with many stakeholders throughout all of the four campuses,” he said, “and to really understand from them what their aspirations are for the University of Missouri system, and to listen to their advice.
“It’s really a two-way dialogue that needs to happen for all of us, to contribute to growing the excellence and the stature of the University of Missouri system.”
On many specific issues – from guns on campus to a possible search for a new chancellor at Mizzou to state support for the system – Choi said he would have to study the situation and confer with school officials, curators and others.
Here is what he had to say on other questions:
Unionizing faculty – “I believe very strongly in faculty governance. I think shared governance with faculty members at this university, at this campus, or any other in the United States, is very important.”
He said faculty members at UConn are in a union, and “it was a very collaborative environment, where we all believed in promoting the mission of the university, which is teaching, research and extension. I believe that’s the key, to bring faculty members and administrators, along with the stakeholders, together so that we can meet the mission of the university.”
Attracting foreign students – “We have a commitment to train the best students in the United States and also attract some of the best talent who will contribute to the economic development of this state and the country. So we're going to be pursuing that very aggressively.
“I do believe they will see the value of the type of education that they can receive at the four campuses of the University of Missouri system, because we offer world-class programs, and world class programs will attract the best talent.”
Choi brings an academic background to the office of president, following two predecessors who came from the business world. Wayne Goode of Normandy, a former head of the Board of Curators, said he can see both kinds of experience being valuable for whoever is in charge of the system.
“I definitely think you need to have academic-based leadership most of the time,” Goode said, “although it's a good idea from time to time to bring in someone with a real management background. Because a lot of times academic people don't have that background. Some have that as well as the academics, and that's even better.”
The University of Missouri’s Board of Curators holds the license for St. Louis Public Radio.
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