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Curators detail top priorities for next UM system president

University of Missouri-Columbia

If a candidate for the presidency of the University of Missouri asks interviewers about their priorities for the system and the themes that are part of the school’s vision, what should the answers be?

That was the topic of a meeting of the university’s Board of Curators in Kansas City on Friday. For anyone who has been following the up-and-down fortunes of the university in recent months, the list they came up with will look familiar:

  • Diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • A high-quality faculty.
  • Long-term financial sustainability.
  • A strong health-care system.
  • Rebuilding the university’s reputation.
  • Establishing partnerships and alliances.
  • Clarifying the roles of the system and the four campuses.

And once those areas are defined, consultant John Deadwyler, who was hired to lead the session, said the university has to make clear to any potential president how he or she would be judged in the job.
“If I were a candidate for president,” he told the group, “I would want to know what am I accountable to do, and what do I have responsibility to do. They’re different.”

Earlier this year, as the search for a successor to Tim Wolfe got underway, the presidential search committee held forums on all four of the system’s campuses, asking for ideas about what qualities a new president should have.

That list included skills and interests such as a passion for higher education, a proven track record of leading a complex organization, a multicultural outlook and a command of communication and public relations, to spread the word of the university’s vision to the people it serves.

Friday’s curators’ session was designed to draw up the flip side of that question: What are the major themes in the university’s mission, and what are its priorities for the next three years.

At the end, the curators had a list that represented a consensus – a condition that Deadwyler defined this way:

“The dogs may bark, the caravan must move on.”

The presidential search process is continuing. The committee is still developing a candidate pool and reviewing candidates before narrowing the list for preliminary interviews, heading toward naming a final candidate by the end of the year.

Interview results

Here is a sample of topics and comments that came up in earlier individual interviews conducted by Deadwyler’s consulting firm with curators, chancellors and others:

On accessibility and affordability:

“One issue to decide regarding the long term vision and direction is having accessibility and affordability on one hand and selectivity on the other.”

“Identity – Are we a top flight AAU school or a fairly close to open access school for all Missouri students? There is a diversity of opinions on these questions.”

“The University of Missouri for years needed to be affordable and accessible because it was the only comprehensive school in the state. I think our role in the state now is to be more selective, but we seem to be stuck in old mold that our schools aren’t different from other schools, only bigger. We need to better distinguish our current role.”

On diversity and inclusion:

“Build confidence in the Columbia campus. We’re not racists, and we have a lot of great people there. We’ve taken a bad rap. Other universities have similar things going on; ours just blew up and the nation focused on it.”

“Students, faculty and staff need to feel included and that system is on their side and the school is a place where they can succeed. The stakeholders should feel empowered by the university and that they can do their best teaching, learning and research.”

“Turn our racial catastrophe from November to a positive by continuing to invest in inclusion efforts. A lack of commitment by the board to this issue would set us back.”

On financial resources:

“Fiscal responsibility. We don’t want to always be reactive to the legislature. We need to do more with public/private resources, translate the research outcomes and reduce reliance on increasing the student population to finance bricks and mortar.”

On how the system should work:

“The system has to work for all four universities. It can’t be Mizzou, and then the others. The president has to understand how all four universities contribute to the system. Going forward, it’s important that we give support to the other three schools, especially as the other campuses are experiencing growth. They need to get their share of the pie.”

'Build confidence in the Columbia campus. We're not racists, and we have a lot of great people there.'

“We need to be as coherent a system as possible. We want to make sure we are coordinated as much as possible while still allowing for differences among the campuses.”

“It’s actually more like a confederacy of universities with really strong states’ rights. The four schools are autonomous. We need to admit that we are a confederacy, a loose confederacy of four autonomous institutions. The long-term vision is to turn the confederacy into a federacy then into one university, but that won’t happen in Missouri. Alumni, faculty, people and politicians won’t like it.”

“What is the relationship between University Hall where the system is run, and Jesse Hall where the MU campus is run? There have been issues with the system president wanting to run the MU campus. I think it’s vitally important that the president and chancellor of MU understand what role University Hall plays and what role Jesse Hall plays. I’ve seen egos clash over this question.”

“Some presidents understand that their job is to support what the chancellors are doing on their campuses. The president’s job isn’t to unify the campuses because each campus is different and needs to focus on its strengths. The system is too small. It should include Truman and Missouri State, and then you could do role and scope around the state.”

On rebuilding the system’s reputation:

“We need a really good cheerleader who can wow the community at large.”

“Brand restoration. Changing narrative about the university and erasing a lot of bad, old stuff. The brand wasn’t clearly defined before the crisis unfolded last year. The average Missourian has no sense of what the school does. Negative thoughts accumulated in the last year. The identity of the school has to be the underpinning of a good brand. The four campuses have mostly solid brands. At system level we need brand restoration and identity in the worst way.”

“Reassure the public that the we are still committed to quality education and research. The new president has to be committed to ideals of the university and committed to repairing the image and brand and get it back to a place where it is respected nationally and internationally.”

On being an asset to Missouri:

“The primary purpose of the school is providing education to citizens of Missouri, but we need to also make sure we communicate to the state how the university benefits the state in more than just an academic way. We don’t do a good job of explaining to the citizens and legislature how we contribute to overall welfare of the state. We need to do a better job of publicizing this – our research, extension programs, and health care system.”

'We need a really good cheerleader who can wow the community at large.'

“The legislature needs to know that we’ve created tremendous value for the state. We need to create a value proposition not just in their minds, but have it established in the minds of everyone across the state. There is an extension service in every small town in Missouri, but most people don’t know it’s part of the system. We need to get that message out to the legislature, students, parents, the community – all key stakeholders.”

The University of Missouri’s Board of Curators holds the license for St. Louis Public Radio.

Follow Dale on Twitter: @dalesinger

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