Timothy Wolfe, veteran business executive, named new president of University of Missouri system
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 14, 2011 - The next president of the University of Missouri system is Timothy M. Wolfe, a veteran businessman who grew up in Columbia, led his high school to a state championship as its quarterback, then went on to earn a business degree from Mizzou.
Wolfe, 53, will take office Feb. 15, when interim President Steve Owens will step down. Owens has served as president since Gary Forsee resigned last January to take care of his sick wife; he had said he did not want the job on a permanent basis.
He was given a three-year contract with a base salary of $450,000 the first year and possible upward adjustments after that, but no downward adjustment. He is also eligible for annual bonuses of up to $100,000 based on performance goals that he will set with the Board of Curators. (see contract below.)
New material begins here: Wolfe began his day Wednesday at the university's St. Louis campus, where he sported a red UMSL tie and a Gateway Arch lapel pin as he spoke to a crowd of campus well-wishers at the J.C. Penney building.
Chancellor Thomas George said that UMSL "couldn't be more pleased with the qualifications, the credentials and the experience of our new president."
Wolfe then told the gathering that since he first was contacted about the job in August, he has studied the four-campus system and come to the conclusion that "the greatest asset for the state of Missouri is the University of Missouri system."
He pledged to continue working so that the university can help move the state forward with teaching, research, service and economic development. Noting that the St. Louis area is the economic engine that drives Missouri, Wolfe added:
"We need to get that engine moving a lot faster than it is right now."
Wolfe said that he has learned and will continue to learn about how each of the university's campuses plays a unique role -- a fact he will study during what he called his "journey of enlightenment" over the next two months before he takes office.
And he pleased the crowd by telling them that though his wife is from Kansas City, his family "sat in front of the television and watched every single moment of the World Series."
After accepting gifts of an UMSL sweatshirt and UMSL mugs, Wolfe headed to Kansas City for the final stop on his initial tour of the university's campuses. end new material
At a ceremony Tuesday morning at the flagship campus in Columbia, Wolfe called his appointment "a very, very special homecoming for my family and me. What makes it so outstanding is the ability to lead this institution that has had such a remarkable past and today is advancing the state in so many ways."
He said his job as system president would be to "help foster the innovation and entrepreneurship that exists" at its four campuses.
After getting up to speed on the system's operations, he said, he hopes to share with Missourians "a vision that illuminates to our state and all of our important constituency groups the critical importance of higher education.
"If we do our job, our vision and strategy will be so compelling that we will attract support from the state, from donors, from alumni and from businesses."
Wolfe acknowledged that he has no experience working in academia, but both of his parents are professors, so he vividly understands the issues facing higher education. His father, Joe Wolfe, is a retired faculty member at Mizzou; his mother, Judith, earned four degrees from Mizzou and is a law professor at the Massachusetts School of Law.
After graduating from Rock Bridge High School in Columbia and the Columbia campus' business school, he had a 30-year career in business, most recently at Novell. He left the company earlier this year after it was purchased and entered into a period of what he called "funemployment" when Warren Erdman, chairman of the university's Board of Curators called to ask him whether he was interested in the presidency.
"I was flattered by the call," Wolfe said, "but I really never considered following in my parents' footsteps and having a role in higher ed."
The more he looked into the position, he said, the more he realized that "my Missouri roots, my leadership experience as well as my passion for higher ed could help further the university system in its quest for excellence."
In Wolfe, the university chose for the second consecutive time a business executive with no experience in higher education administration. Forsee had been chairman and CEO of Sprint before becoming president of the university system in 2007. Wolfe noted that he has talked with Forsee about the challenges facing the university and "the opportunities to give back to (my) alma mater as well as give more students the same opportunities that he and I enjoyed."
After graduating from Mizzou with a business degree, Wolfe spent 20 years with IBM, then worked at a global consulting firm before moving to Novell. When that firm was bought in April and he was contacted about the university job, Wolfe said he became interested.
Noting the fact that his parents are longtime professors, Wolfe added that his passion for higher ed is "in my DNA."
Erdman, who is finishing up his year as chairman of the university's Board of Curators, said those involved in the search wanted a president who appreciated Missouri, could leverage the university's resources to advance the state's economy and would "serve tirelessly as a champion for public higher education."
Erdman said Wolfe embodies those qualities. "He comes back to us now with national and international experience," he said, "but with a heart that has always stayed in Missouri."
Wolfe admitted that he has a cram course ahead in learning about the school, "and just like in college, I expect I'll have to pull a few all-nighters. But I'm up to the challenge."
Wolfe introduced his wife, Molly -- noting that she grew up in Kansas City and attended the University of Kansas, Mizzou's arch rival -- and their 16-year-old twins, Madison and Tyler, and thanked the curators for their thorough search and for his new appointment.
"I'm ecstatic and proud to be the newest member of the University of Missouri family," Wolfe said, adding:
"I can't wait to get started."
Reactions from Around the System
Michael D. Murray, who chairs the Faculty Senate at the St. Louis campus and represented the university faculty on the Academic Advisory Committee in the presidential search, said Wolfe's father was one of his favorite professors when he was a doctoral student at Mizzou in the 1970s.
He said Wolfe was selected for a variety of reasons, "most especially because of our state finances and the long tradition of lagging behind competing states, in terms of overall support for higher education.
"The UM Board of Curators is going with someone who not only knows a lot about the business of our state from having grown up and gone on to school studying it in a college of business here, but he is also someone who obviously understands the university from a very unique perspective as a business leader and from having been successful in many contexts, especially in IT-related positions."
Murray hopes Wolfe can make progress in an area that has long been a concern of faculty members in the system -- low pay.
"The UM Board of Curators likes to regularly point out that in our university system, faculty members are among the lowest compensated in the nation and also among the most poorly supported. As a result, we lose a lot of faculty members who are ambitious and mobile.
"They are recruited to go elsewhere for a lot more money. They sometimes have their salaries doubled. If they don't have family or strong roots in Missouri, or some other compelling reason to stay, we often lose them. That's a dilemma most major systems face these days."
The reaction of other leaders on St. Louis campus was similar. A student who sat on the presidential search committee and the head of the staff association both welcomed the news that Wolfe would be leading the system.
"I'm excited to have him on board," said Jericah Selby, head of the UMSL student government association. She said that during her work on the search committee, she was impressed with Wolfe's knowledge of the university and the state.
"I think he brings a lot of great qualities to our system that we need right now," Selby said.
"He's from Missouri. He knows the differences between St. Louis and Kansas City and Rolla and the needs of the Columbia campus. His knowledge of the system, having his undergraduate degree from Mizzou, is really valuable when it comes to a student perception of him."
Asked to describe how Wolfe came across in the interview process, she said he is progressive and innovative and has a good sense of the local needs of each campus.
"He calls students consumers, a priority in the system," Selby said, "and I thought that was extremely important and very valuable. Sometimes I think at a high level, the whole theory of a university gets lost."
Both Selby and Amanda M. La Brier, who heads the staff association at UMSL, said that a president with no background in academia is a plus for the university because the chancellors of the individual campuses can handle the academic aspect just fine.
"Each of the campuses has a phenomenal chancellor, highly and intensely academic," Selby said. "I think having a president with an academic background would almost step on the chancellors' toes. What our system needed, from student standpoint, is a leader who can take our system as a whole and run with it."
La Brier added that the search process obviously was leading to someone whose strengths were in business, "and I think they successfully achieved their goals. The staff is delighted to welcome Timothy Wolfe and we look forward to future success under his leadership.
"I believe that as a successful business person, he will be able to open doors for the university to be successful. I think you need a varied background in leadership roles, including business. That is what the search committee was looking for, someone with both a business and an academic background, and a passion for Missouri and for education."
Murray said this about an academic vs. a business person in the system president's office:
"It's really hard to predict how someone will respond to the pressures associated with the complicated job of system president. But in the end, all of the UM campuses should benefit from someone with very close ties to the University of Missouri system, with personal perspective and a strong business background."