Interim administrators won’t hold MU back

Chancellor Emeritus Brady Deaton: “Leaders need support and teamwork if we expect good judgments to be made. Interim appointments can provide sound leadership and be effectively managed at all levels.”
Mary Hilleren / Graphic Designer

After several shifts in administrative positions following a semester of tension and student protests, MU’s administration began the spring semester with 15 administrators in an interim role. Despite the surplus of temporary positions, having many interim administrators could be beneficial for the university.

“I have felt completely accepted and empowered as an interim over the last seven months,” said Barbara Rupp, interim vice provost for enrollment management, in an email. “My experience has been that people just want to know that you’re going to work on their behalf for whatever time you are in your role. On some occasions an interim can even be more effective, especially if they are not a candidate for the open position, because they can be more forthcoming with their comments and opinions.”

Rupp was retired for one year when she returned to MU in her interim role. She worked in admissions from 1997 until her retirement in 2014, and she became the director of admissions in 2004.

Because both she and many of the interim administrators have previous experience with the university, Rupp said they are in a good position to make necessary decisions, especially in an interim role.

“I have a long history with the university, I care about the university, and I’m willing to speak up and try to accomplish some things,” Rupp said. “I’m not tethered by being worried about whether I’ll be hired permanently or whether I might be let go. I came with the full understanding that it was strictly on an interim basis, and that can actually be rather liberating. As an interim I think it would be unwise and unfair to make any sweeping broad changes in the division, but I’m fully willing to make specific recommendations and changes as they are needed and have done so.”

Although administrators in interim positions often have limited time before they are succeeded by permanent replacements, Chancellor Emeritus Brady Deaton said in an email that being interim is rarely an excuse for inaction and there should not be delays in making administrative decisions because an administrator is in an interim role.

“There may be times that someone holds back or delays responding because they may think you will not be there that long,” Deaton said. “But that is risky for them, and trying to game that interim situation is very complex and subject to misunderstandings. I found it best to just charge ahead on the assumption that these were important decisions that needed to be made by whomever held the post. Someone else would have to change it later if they did not like the outcome.”

Interim Chancellor Hank Foley has already made changes in his new position in the two months since replacing former Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, who resigned in November. Foley announced in an email to students Dec. 4 that he would re-establish the position of executive vice chancellor of health affairs, which Loftin decided not to fill after Hal Williamson retired from the position. Foley appointed Williamson as the interim executive vice chancellor of health affairs, making Williamson the most recent addition to the interim administrators.

Deaton has served in both interim and permanent positions at MU. After former Provost Edward Sheridan left for the University of Houston, Deaton was appointed interim provost in January 1998 before being appointed provost eight months later. When Chancellor Emeritus Richard Wallace retired, Deaton became interim chancellor in September 2004 and was directly appointed as chancellor without a search the next month.

Deaton said his responsibilities did not feel different in his interim roles compared to the permanent ones.

“Leadership in these positions depends on personal commitment, understanding of the issues, and respect from others,” Deaton said. “You have to have good people around you either way to help with the process. I did not find the circumstances to be that different in my case.”

The sudden prevalence of interim administrators is likely due in part to the voluntary buyout program that MU introduced in September 2014. The program offered a one-time payout for retiring from MU to tenured faculty who were eligible for retirement and over 62 by Aug. 31, 2015.

Because the names of those who accepted buyouts were not released, it is unclear how many of the administrators succeeded by the current interim replacements retired as a result of the program. However, 13 of the 28 eligible academic administrators accepted buyouts, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Some former administrators left their positions publicly, such as Loftin and former Trulaske College of Business Dean Joan Gabel, who vacated her position when she became the provost at the University of South Carolina in August.

The UM System Board of Curators met Jan. 13 to discuss the search for the next system president to succeed interim President Mike Middleton, who succeeded former President Tim Wolfe after Wolfe resigned amid student protests and racial tension.

The board is expected to announce a final decision regarding Wolfe’s permanent replacement at their Feb. 4-5 meeting. However, the current timeline for the search for permanent administrators at MU is still unclear. MU does not have any specific answers regarding the search for permanent administrators at this time, spokesman Christian Basi said in an email.

“I am confident that sound decisions will continue to be made and that adjustments will occur as needed,” Deaton said. “Universities are dynamic environments and continuing adjustments will continue long into the future by whomever is in charge. Leaders need support and teamwork if we expect good judgments to be made. Interim appointments can provide sound leadership and be effectively managed at all levels.”

Current interim administrators at MU

Interim deans:

  • Stephen P. Ferris, Trulaske College of Business
  • J. Sanford Rikoon, College of Human Environmental Sciences
  • James P. Stannard, School of Medicine
  • Kathryn Chval, College of Education **Other interim administrators:**
  • Interim Vice Chancellor for Inclusion, Diversity & Equity Chuck Henson
  • Interim Executive Vice Chancellor of Health Affairs Hal Williamson
  • Interim Vice Provost for Enrollment Management
  • Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resource Services Jatha Sadowski
  • Interim Vice Provost for Extension and Director for Cooperative Extension Thomas Henderson
  • Interim Vice Provost for International Programs James K. Scott
  • Acting Director of MU Libraries Anne C. Riley
  • Interim Vice Chancellor for Research, Graduate Studies and Economic Development Mark McIntosh
  • Interim Vice Chancellor for Marketing and Communications Jennifer Hollingshead
  • Interim Director of MU Police Department Doug Schwandt
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