Politically Speaking: President Choi on challenges and opportunities for UM System | St. Louis Public Radio

Politically Speaking: President Choi on challenges and opportunities for UM System

May 29, 2018

On the latest edition of Politically Speaking, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum is pleased to welcome University of Missouri System President Mun Choi to the program for the first time.

Choi oversees four University of Missouri campuses in Columbia, Kansas City, Rolla and St. Louis. He took on his job on March 1, 2017, succeeding interim President Michael Middleton.

Choi came to Missouri after tenure as the University of Connecticut’s provost and executive vice president. He has a Ph.D. in engineering from Princeton University, and previously headed the engineering department at Drexel University. He also was an assistant and associate professor of engineering at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Choi came into office at a difficult time for the University of Missouri system. The University of Missouri-Columbia’s reputation and perception took a major hit after protests over race relations on campus made national news. In fact, the response to those protests was a critical reason for the resignation of one of his predecessors — former University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe.

After taking office, Choi had to deal with major funding cuts to higher education — which resulted in layoffs throughout the University of Missouri system. While Gov. Eric Greitens proposed even more reductions in higher education spending, lawmakers ignored the embattled GOP chief executive and reversed those cuts.

Here’s what Choi had to say during the show:

  • Enrollment at the University of Missouri-Columbia is up significantly — a big change from when numbers dropped for three years after the 2015 protests. “We are going to see an increase of 14 percent in freshman attendance in fall of 2018,” he said, adding that Chancellor Alexander Cartwright deserves credit for implementing good programs.
  • After the 2015 protests, Choi said he believes “very strongly there has to be proactive leadership from the president. And I believe also very strongly that the buck does stop with the office of the president,” he added. “That working closely with the chancellors at each of the campuses, we must be aware of situations that are developing so that we address them in an appropriate and a timely manner.”
  • Legislative leaders Choi met “really do believe in the value of higher education,” especially because many attended a UM System school. “But they also recognize the pot of resources that is available to support the various programs, including K- 12 to infrastructure to serving Medicaid, really does leave very little for new initiatives or new investments.”
  • In periods of economic distress, Choi said higher education institutions have been looked upon as “a source that can absorb the cuts partly because universities have the ability to grow their own revenue through increasing enrollment and increasing tuition.” But he added that Missouri universities are restricted from raising tuition under state law.

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Music: “Every Morning” by Sugar Ray