MU’s new chancellor hopes to bring university’s potential to light by understanding campus community

I remember calling my wife and saying, ‘I’m going to be disappointed if I don’t get this position’ because I saw this place and I had known a lot about it too, but it was nothing like walking on the campus,” Chancellor Alexander Cartwright said.

Before working at MU, Cartwright served as provost and executive vice chancellor of the State University of New York.

With a cup of coffee in his hand and a silver MU pin on his lapel, Chancellor Alexander Cartwright is faced with matters every day ranging from enrollment management to adjusting to the university. Cartwright officially began his duties on Aug. 1 after his appointment was announced in late May.

“I love being here,” he said. “It’s a great institution. We have outstanding students throughout the entire organization and great faculty, committed staff and people who really are trying to do the best for Mizzou.”

For Cartwright, choosing MU was an easy decision. In addition to being a land grant institution, the university is one of the 60 American universities in the Association of American Universities, an organization that recognizes leading research universities and places MU in an “elite class,” according to the chancellor. And like many MU students, when visiting the campus, it was love at first sight.

“I remember calling my wife and saying, ‘I’m going to be disappointed if I don’t get this position,’ because I saw this place and I had known a lot about it too, but it was nothing like walking on the campus,” Cartwright said. “Some people think it’s not that important, but seeing the care that someone puts into an institution and the care we put into our grounds tells you something about the pride of the institution, about how they value what we’re doing.”

Outside of his role as chancellor, Cartwright enjoys biking, reading and listening to music. He is a big fan of making playlists, drawing from a variety of musical styles and genres. A quick look at his playlists would reveal tracks from Hamilton, Ed Sheeran, Blake Shelton and The Lumineers.

Prior to his arrival at MU, Cartwright held positions as provost and executive vice chancellor at the State University of New York System and vice president for research and economic development at the University at Buffalo, as well as numerous other positions involving research and faculty leadership. His experience in New York helped him understand enrollment strategies and focus on the needs of students, which he plans to use to tackle issues at MU, he said.

Provost Garnett Stokes, who has worked closely with the chancellor since his arrival in August, has helped him as he gets accustomed to the campus, faculty and student body.

From presenting a survey on campus climate with Interim Vice Chancellor Kevin McDonald and President Mun Choi to the initiation of a monthly “joint leadership team meeting,” Stokes said that the MU administration team has already accomplished a lot since Cartwright’s arrival.

These monthly joint leadership meetings were started by Cartwright and include the chancellor’s staff, the vice provost, all of the deans, faculty counsel and staff counsel, as well as student government leaders.

“I would need to look at my calendar to remember all of the things we’ve actually tackled together,” she said.

Despite the recent concerns of enrollment and inclusion on campus, Cartwright has high hopes for the university. Although the 2015 protests continue to impact the university today, MU is “in a different place than then,” the chancellor said.

Cartwright continued that this year’s retention numbers have been almost record breaking at 87 percent, the second highest in MU history. To continue efforts to raise enrollment and retention rates, the university recently signed a $1.27-million, three-year contract with a Philadelphia-based branding firm that will aid in creating a positive, unique image for MU.

The chancellor has confidence that if more student stories are presented in the media, enrollment and retainment numbers will increase.

“We have a lot of really good students here,” Cartwright said. “They know the truth [about the environment on campus]. They do. I’ve been trying to get more and more time with students. I really do want to set it up so that a couple times a month we’re hosting some students for different things. I’ve been trying to go have open hours with the student groups. And the reason is that I want to understand what the students are thinking about this place.”

Cartwright’s concern for students stemmed from his earlier career as a professor and researcher, where he enjoyed working with students and began looking at how to change the environment of an institution.

“I learned a lot by working three years at a system office, but now being able to work with students, to talk with students and think about what are the daily challenges that they have and how we might be able to help — that’s what I’m really excited about,” he said.

Cartwright’s attempts to reach out to the student body do not surprise University at Buffalo President Satish Tripathi, who has known Cartwright for 13 years. Tripathi and Cartwright began working together through a program called Faculty Fellows when Tripathi started his role as provost in 2004.

“I think one of the best things Alex really does is he listens to people and he actually tries to understand different perspectives and come up with decisions,” Tripathi said. “They may not be decisions in two minutes, but they would be good decisions, deliberate decisions and [decisions that are] really trying to understand different constituencies.”

Stokes agreed with this sentiment, affirming that that the chancellor “doesn’t take anything personally,” explaining that he looks for people to disagree with him to help him grow in understanding and perspective. She also values how he can find humor even in difficult situations, a sentiment that Cartwright talked about as well.

“I think my style in working with people is that if you work with me, you’ll realize that no matter how stressful it is, that I like to laugh. I like to enjoy what’s going on, even if it’s really stressful, because I feel that’s the only way I can handle it,” Cartwright said. “If you’re in it together, with any type of challenging situation you then can have the light moments also as the day goes on.”

Although Cartwright is no longer working at the University at Buffalo, Tripathi has no doubts that the chancellor will do a good job in aiding the future of MU.

“I’ve known Alex for thirteen years, and I know that University of Missouri has an excellent chancellor,” Tripathi said in an email. “He will do a terrific job. He is a wonderful teacher, mentor and leader. And, he is a really excellent scientist. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. These fellowships are a testament to the seminal work he has conducted in his field of electrical engineering.”

Edited by Olivia Garrett | ogarrett@themaneater.com

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