UM System presidential search forum comes to MU

Former curator Fred Hall: “The president has got to be a leader, he’s got to be a person of strong concepts of the role of academia, and he’s got to have an empathy for faculty, students and that sort of thing.”
The MU Board of Curators meets on January 4, 2016, in the Alumni Center. The curators and the rest of the UM President search committee held an open form on April 5 for anyone to come and voice their opinions about what they want in the new president. Maneater File Photo

The UM System presidential search committee heard a variety of opinions about the desired experience and qualifications of the next system president during a public forum on campus Wednesday.

Faculty, staff and students attended the forum, the third of four at the various UM System campuses, to give input. Many agreed that having a terminal degree and experience in higher education are both keys qualifications they would like to see in candidates. Others spoke about their desire to have a president who can relate to faculty and students.

Cheryl Walker and Jim Whitaker, the co-chairs of the presidential search committee, led the forum. Interim Chancellor Hank Foley, interim Vice President for Human Resources Kelly Stuck and some members of the Board of Curators and presidential search committee were also in attendance.

“We are at a turning point at Mizzou — I think most of you who are here realize that, and realize that at turning points, it’s critical to get things right,” Foley said in his opening remarks.

Foley shared his vision, which is comprised of three facets, for the next president.

“I’d like someone who is impeccable in terms of integrity and ethics,” Foley said. “Secondly, I’d like someone of high intellect, and thirdly, I’d like someone who is intense. Someone who really enjoys this and will throw themselves into it fully as if there’s nothing else important in life.”

Many who spoke at the forum said they wished for the president to hold a terminal degree. Rebecca Johnson, a professor of veterinary medicine and nursing, said in addition to a terminal degree, she also believes that it is vital to have an understanding of the academic mission.

“This person needs more than anything to have the educational academic mission in his or her DNA so that they understand what it is we are here for,” Johnson said. “I say DNA because if the person doesn’t have that awareness in their DNA, all the advising and all the instructing and all the teaching we tried to do about that will fall on deaf ears because there won’t be an understanding of how you implement context of the academic mission within the business of this huge institution.”

Former curator Fred Hall said he believes it’s important for the next president to have an understanding of the academic world.

“The president has got to be a leader, he’s got to be a person of strong concepts of the role of academia, and he’s got to have an empathy for faculty and students,” Hall said.

Bill Griffin, a MU graduate and business professor, said he would like to see an increase in the number of international and exchange students and believes a professor with an understanding of globalism could be a step in that direction.

“I would like to see someone in this position who has a global mindset because what we do reaches much further than these 100 square miles that we’re sitting in the middle of and particularly our students need an exposure of that,” Griffin said.

But Darryl Cook, an employee from the Moniteau County division of UM Extension, said he believes it is important for the president to be well-versed on small places, too, not just cities and the international sphere.

“I think that the president really needs to come from an environment that is extremely diverse,” Cook said. “We are an outlier. We are the farthest distance in this constellation of education and we need someone who can acknowledge the presence of small places like Moniteau County and the young people that come from there because they will end up being candidates, hopefully, for admission to MU.”

Religious studies professor Rabia Gregory said she thinks the president should have teaching experience to better relate to faculty.

“I think, if we can possibly make it happen, that the candidate should have some experience teaching, whether in the classroom, through extension or publish outreach, but some understanding, not just what it means to be a student, but what it means to work with students,” Gregory said.

Along the same line, doctoral student Kristofferson Culmer said being able to relate to students is also important.

“I think what we need to realize is the system is made up of 77,000 students, and the system president needs to have a focus towards the student experience, the student outcome, someone who is committed to really improving the environment for the benefits of the students here,” Culmer said.

Those who spoke also recognized the importance in working with politicians to have a good relationship with the state legislature.

“I think it’s important that this person have a certain amount of political charisma — whatever that is — given the situation with this university and our state legislature,” Cook said. “This is an opportunity, when you talk about leadership, for the school to put their best foot forward as the leader in the process so that when you’re confronting individuals in the legislature, you have the experience and the knowledge and the ability to deal with diverse political positions which come together in Jefferson City and see themselves as having a very substantial role in how this school is governed.”

Former Missouri Students Association President Payton Head spoke about the events of the fall and said that he believes the next president should be someone who is not afraid to create the UM System’s own narrative.

“I think it’s most important that for a strong University of Missouri System, we have to take ownership of our students, we have to take ownership of the past, present and future,” Head said.

Head said the UM System needs to embrace its positive and negative qualities.

“We have to have a president, we have to have a system, we have to have a university who isn’t afraid of owning the good and the bad of our institution,” Head said. “Mizzou has done a lot of bad in the past, but Mizzou has also done a lot of good.”

Edited by Taylor Blatchford |

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