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Demonstrators at Mizzou interrupt meeting where curators discuss picking a president

The columns at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
St. Louis Public Radio file photo
More than 100 degree program will be eliminated at Missouri colleges and universities as part of a cost-savings review ordered by Gov. Jay Nixon. (flickr/Adam Proctor)

After demonstrators interrupted a meeting of the University of Missouri Board of Curators Thursday to restate their demands that led to the resignation of President Tim Wolfe, the curators got down to the business of how to choose Wolfe’s replacement.

About two dozen representatives of the group Concerned Student 1950 -- which was instrumental in the protest that led to Wolfe’s departure in November as well as the demotion of Mizzou Chancellor R. Brady Loftin -- entered the curators’ meeting at the Alumni Center on the Columbia campus about 15 minutes after it began.

As reported by the Columbia Daily Tribune and other news outlets, the protesters reiterated their demands about minority representation on campus and other issues. They also expressed support for Melissa Click, the Mizzou instructor who has been suspended by the curators for interfering with media covering the protests last fall.

“We stand with Melissa Click because it is the right thing to do,” one of the demonstrators said.

Curator chair Pamela Henrickson at first gaveled the meeting to order to stop the protest, then called a halt to let the demonstrators have their say. They left the room after a short period of time, and the curators resumed their discussions.

“I appreciate the opportunity to hear from those folks,” said curator David Steelman of Rolla. “I do not consider that an interruption.”

Choosing a president

Later in the meeting, the curators took up a discussion of the search process to choose Wolfe’s successor.

Curator John Phillips of Kansas City outlined changes from the process that was used to choose Wolfe in 2012. The curators approved a plan to open the formal search committee to representatives of the students, faculty and staff of the university.

He also said that public input would be sought in forums held in Columbia, St. Louis, Rolla and Kansas City, and he directed university personnel to make sure that people from other parts of Missouri who want to give their views would be able to take part via technology.

“We’re in the process of seeing what space is available in each location, and it will probably be the first week of April,” Phillips said. “We are also working with the campuses to determine what time of the day or evening is likely to attract the most people -- students, faculty alums, public -- to come and have input on the front end of the search process.

“The input would be largely what kind of qualifications are we looking for when we post for the president search. Eventually we will come down to a list of qualifications that will become public, get posted and be advertised to some degree.”

The board has sent out a request for search firms to take part in the process and received 10 responses by this week’s deadline. It plans to winnow that list down later this month.

In earlier discussions, curators have said the search would be a hybrid, with names of potential candidates being kept confidential until finalists are chosen. Then, the finalists would appear at public forums, with the final decision being made by the curators themselves.

Henrickson has said she hopes to have a president in place by the end of the year.

Curators also discussed notification from Standard & Poor’s that the outlook for the university’s credit rating has been changed, from stable to negative. Officials told the curators that the move was not unexpected but emphasized that the rating itself has not been changed and remains at AA+, which is among the strongest for universities nationwide.

As the curators met in Columbia, state auditor Nicole Galloway said she plans to audit the university system as part of an overall look at affordability at all of the state’s public colleges and universities.

In response, interim UM President Michael Middleton released a statement that said:

“The University of Missouri System prides itself in being excellent stewards of the resources entrusted to us, including taxpayer, donor and tuition funds, which has been demonstrated by the $77 million saved by the UM System due to efficiencies and effectiveness measures in just the past two years alone. We are also committed to being completely transparent and open about our operations, and welcome the review announced today by Missouri's state auditor.”

Much of the curators’ meeting concerned possible changes to benefits for university employees and retirees, with projections showing large cost increases if modifications are not made. No action was taken on the issue pending feedback from workers in all areas of the university.

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.

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