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Education

Forsee leaving post as UM president to help care for his wife

This article first appered in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 7, 2011 - Just short of three years from the day he moved from the business world into academia, Gary Forsee said Friday he was leaving his post as president of the University of Missouri system to help his wife as she recovers from cancer.

Forsee went on temporary leave Dec. 2 shortly after his wife, Sherry, was diagnosed following an emergency appendectory. In a statement Friday, announcing that he was leaving his position permanently, he said she "has had subsequent successful surgery, finding no further signs of cancer, and will soon begin a treatment regimen to ensure she remains cancer-free.

"I know that many of you have either experienced this terrible disease or have similarly supported family and friends facing this challenge -- and to you, Sherry and I also extend our warmest wishes for successful outcomes."

Steve Owens, the general counsel of the four-campus system who took over Forsee's duties last month, was named interim president by the Board of Curators, who met in Columbia. A search will begin immediately for the system's 23rd president, according to Warren Erdman of Kansas City, who began his term as chairman of the board this month.

"We are clearly saddened to lose such a great leader for our four-campus enterprise," Erdman said, "but know that his place is with Sherry as she undergoes the typically rigorous treatment facing cancer patients."

Emphasizing the curators' commitment to keeping the system on its current course, with the help of chancellors from the campuses in Columbia, St. Louis, Rolla and Kansas City, Erdman added:

"We are proud of what this team under Gary's leadership has accomplished in the past several years."

Forsee leaves at a time of great change for the Board of Curators as well. One member has resigned, and three others are awaiting appointment of their replacements after their term expired.

Also, because Missouri stands to lose one seat in Congress after reapportionment mandated by the Census, down to eight districts, the state will have to reconcile two legal requirements: that the board have nine members and that no more than one member may come from any one congressional district.

Before moving to the university in February 2008, Forsee had spent more than 36 years in the telecommunications industry, including his final post as chairman and chief executive of Sprint Nextel in Kansas City.

That business orientation served him well at a time when higher education in Missouri was dealing with tight financial times. A list of Forsee's accomplishments from Erdman included improvements in the university's research and development program; improved credit ratings, which stemmed from stringent cost controls; greater accountability measures; and new public-private partnerships.

Also on the list were greater access to the university for minority students, investment in electronic learning and task forces to help ensure students are prepared for college from their earliest days in school and are prepared for the world of work when they leave the university.

Erdman further cited an agreement with Gov. Jay Nixon and the Legislature to hold tuition at the university flat at a time that state aid was under severe financial pressure.

That agreement is not likely to last much longer. The curators are expected to set tuition rates later this month, and based on indications from their meeting at the St. Louis campus in December, the increase is likely to be larger than the cost of living. If so, the university may be required to seek a waiver from the state's Department of Higher Education.

Citing the economic challenges that continue to confront state government, Erdman praised Forsee's contributions, saying he was "part of the solution" to difficulties posed by a long decline in state funding.

"We've been fortunate to have a leader of the highest order," he said. "And we appreciate that he put a team in place that's moving forward on the path that he so thoughtfully put forth. We will miss him, but will always count him as a valued member of our community through his status as an alumnus, donor and past president."

In his own statement, Forsee noted what he learned during the transition from the world of business to the campus:

"When I came to the university three years ago, I recall saying I had a lot to learn and was, in fact, going to need to 'go back to school.' I thought coming in that I knew a fair amount about the university.

"Of course, once on the inside and 'going to school' on our mission, I was quickly impressed with the breadth and quality of the work of our great faculty and staff, the incredible talent of our students, and the support and passion of alumni and friends of the university."

In a statement from his office, Nixon praised Forsee's leadership, saying "he has capably led Missouri's university system through a period of record enrollment growth. President Forsee has provided a steady hand at the tiller throughout his tenure. The First Lady and I wish Gary, his wife, Sherry, and their family all the best."

David Russell, who accepted a five-year term as the state's commissioner of higher education last month after serving 19 years in the University of Missouri system, including chief of staff under Forsee, said in a statement:

"Gary Forsee stepped up at a critical time to assume the leadership of the University of Missouri. He successfully led the drive to make the university more efficient and entrepreneurial. He has been a strong and effective advocate for the university and all of higher education in the halls of government. His efforts to link economic development and university-driven research will have a positive impact on the state's economy for years to come.

"The Coordinating Board for Higher Education joins me in wishing Gary and Sherry Forsee well as they enter this new chapter in their lives."

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