Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin begins term at MU
Loftin plans to engage actively with people across campus.
Feb. 19, 2014
Before he officially became MU’s chancellor Feb. 1, R. Bowen Loftin’s voice was already heard on Twitter.
The social media-savvy chancellor, who tweets from the handle @bowtieger, responds to mentions, direct messages and even silly questions about his signature bow ties.
But behind Loftin’s easygoing Twitter persona is a man who has intentionally mastered social media.
When he set foot on campus to speak with his actual voice, which is deep and laced with a southern lilt, he spoke of beginning, and continuing, relationships as his first priority for learning about the university.
“(Relationships) are key to success in anything that you want to do,” Loftin said. “That’s priority No. 1. That’s ongoing and won’t ever stop."
A native of Hearne, Texas, Loftin graduated from Texas A&M University — which he would eventually lead as president — with a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1970.
Loftin said his background in physics taught him to be analytical and work objectively to solve issues, especially as a leader.
“That background has prepared me very well for how I want to do business, so I’m not limited to seat-of-the-pants kinds of guesses about what to do,” Loftin said. “You develop instincts, you develop feelings for how things should be, but nothing beats good data and using that data effectively to make a good decision.”
Loftin started as vice president and CEO at his alma mater’s Galveston campus from 2005 to 2009, and subsequently served as interim president of Texas A&M for eight months before beginning his presidency in February 2010.
At the time, he gained attention from Aggie students as @aggieprez on Twitter, which showed his love for being with students, said Amanda Hatheway, A&M Student Government Association chief of staff.
“I cannot stress enough how much students loved Dr. Loftin,” Hatheway said. “He would walk across campus and say ‘Howdy’ to every student he saw. He was extremely accessible to students and the mostly friendly and warm administrator that I had met.”
Coming to MU
Loftin announced his retirement from the Texas A&M presidency in July 2013, and he initially planned to stay as a faculty member with the possibility of leading a research institute.
Then he had a conversation with the MU chancellor search committee about the possibility of succeeding Brady Deaton, and he had to make a choice.
“It came down to, do I want to continue down a pathway where I’d be able to touch the students in my classes and laboratories, or do I want to continue dealing with students in a larger number,” Loftin said. “And that just came back to me as something I still probably had the energy and desire to do.”
Now that he is at MU, Loftin’s first priority is to begin the search for a permanent provost, along with replacements for the School of Medicine dean and vice chancellors of university affairs, administrative services and research.
“There are a number of executive positions vacant here at the present time being occupied by interim individuals,” he said. “That search (for a provost) will be announced fairly soon.”
Loftin will also begin the search to replace Dean Mills, the School of Journalism dean, when the provost search begins moving along.
Loftin uses Twitter to best understand how to manage the campus, and he views it as a better way to stay connected with what is going on.
“Social media is very important to me to give me a chance to do two things: One is to allow people to get to me,” Loftin said. “So if I get a tweet directed at me, either I respond to it, or I send it to somebody who can respond to it if there’s a question or concern that’s raised there. Secondly, I follow several hundred students myself ... from different backgrounds. That gives me a way to look at the campus through their eyes day by day.”
In the two weeks he has served as chancellor, tweets have already helped Loftin perceive issues ranging from dangerous facility-oriented matters to students’ struggles with financial aid.
“Much of what is tweeted out there is none of my business, but there are nuggets all the time,” Loftin said. “There can be a fast reaction there if you pay attention to (them).”
Freshman Chase Newman said he thinks Loftin’s larger-than-life Internet personality has helped his impression of the chancellor as an accessible authority figure.
“It makes him seem less like an Oz-type character and more of an actual human being,” Newman said.
Loftin said Twitter is an invaluable resource for managing MU, and he will glance at his feed as he walks across the campus between meetings to see what is happening.
“It’s really important to me to pay attention to the campus from the students’ perspective,” Loftin said of being accessible to students. “People are going to be brutally honest about their observations.”
Loftin said his hands-on approach to managing campus will entail more task delegation to the chancellor’s office staff.
“Any leadership transition is about people getting to learn about each other,” Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Cathy Scroggs said. “In terms of this particular transition, Chancellor Loftin is very student-centered, so it’s been a very good and comfortable transition for student affairs.”
Interim Deputy Provost Ken Dean said each time a new leader comes in with new ideas, it reinvigorates the rest of the administration.
“He comes with a wealth of information,” Dean said. “He’s done this before, so he doesn’t have a steep learning curve. He’s hit the ground running. It’s an exciting time to think about what we can be doing better and differently and improve upon.”
For the students, however, just being able to interact with a prominent university authority is exciting.
“Having him be so involved with the students here at the university is something that I really admire,” freshman Lexie Henning said.
Junior Emily Klaus said the chancellor’s tweeting habits have made him a campus celebrity. She said he excites students with his cleverly crafted responses.
“I think it's awesome he's so active on social media,” she said. “It's the platform college students get most of their news and information from, so it makes him seem much more approachable and active around the university.”
Loftin’s casual informal tweets also show he cares about MU students, senior Mallory Williams said.
“I think it shows that he truly wants to get to know us,” she said. “It makes Mizzou feel much smaller and friendlier.”