COLUMBIA — Brady Deaton, who as chancellor of the University of Missouri oversaw nine years of growth and change, including — perhaps most visibly — the school’s move to the Southeastern Conference, is retiring effective Nov. 15.
By MARÁ ROSE WILLIAMS and BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Deaton will continue to serve the school as chancellor emeritus, focusing on MU’s role in international development.
“I am extraordinarily honored and privileged to have led the University of Missouri through the last nine years of exciting, eventful and rewarding times,” he told a gathering of university administrators, faculty and students Wednesday in the lobby outside his office at Jesse Hall.
“I believe this is a good time for me to step down. Things have never been better. We are poised for continued success. There is a clear sense of direction.”
Since Deaton became chancellor in October 2004, the campus in Columbia has added 7,700 students and erected 21 buildings. Research grants and expenditures have grown by almost half, and minority enrollment has doubled.
At the same time, MU has been part of a national trend of rising tuition costs. Tuition for in-state undergraduates taking a full class load has increased 48 percent, to $9,272 per year.
Deaton said the university now is looking to expand scholarships and its international student enrollment.
He mentioned having seen MU successfully through its first billion-dollar fundraising campaign and said he was leaving the university with completed plans to launch a second such campaign soon.
The university’s challenges, he said, include “finding a new financial base” to counter shrinking state funding.
Deaton, who will turn 71 in August, said the decision was an emotional one. He had started thinking about retirement at the end of last year.
“There was no negative thing that has driven me to this decision,” he said. “I have big ideas that I want to pursue.”
In addition to working with MU, he wants to devote more time to his family (particularly his seven grandchildren) and to his work as chair of the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development, a position he was appointed to by President Barack Obama in 2011 and again in 2012. With more free time, he said he will finally be able to take up New York University on an invitation to serve as a guest-in-residence.
The top post on the Columbia campus was a long way from Deaton’s roots on a farm in eastern Kentucky. He was the second of nine children and the first in his family to earn a college degree.
He came to MU in 1989 to lead the agricultural economics department after spending two years in Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer, getting degrees at the University of Kentucky and a doctorate at the University of Wisconsin and holding several teaching jobs.
He moved into campuswide administration in 1993. In 1998, he was named MU Provost, the campus’ chief academic officer and second in command behind then-Chancellor Richard Wallace.
In September 2004, when Wallace stepped down, Deaton served as interim chancellor for a month while the university system was to conduct a nationwide search for a permanent replacement. But the search never happened. The next month, Deaton was announced as the new chancellor.
University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe and the curators will begin discussions about the search for Deaton’s replacement when they meet today in Columbia.
“Finding a leader with the academic background and leadership prowess exhibited by Dr. Deaton will be our top priority,” Wolfe said.
Calling Deaton an old friend, Board of Curators Chairman Wayne Goode on Wednesday thanked him for his service.
“Brady did a great job as chancellor,” Goode said. “He has been an asset to Mizzou and the entire University of Missouri System.”
As chancellor, Deaton was Missouri’s first fan, and there has been plenty of good cheer during his tenure.
The football team played in two Big 12 championship games. The men’s basketball team won two Big 12 tournaments and came within one victory of the NCAA Final Four in 2009. The softball team made three straight Women’s College World Series appearances.
But Deaton’s defining moment in MU sports was his role in opening the path for inclusion in the Southeastern Conference.
“He’s as good a person as I’ve ever worked with,” Missouri Athletic Director Mike Alden said. “He’s touched all facets of our program in a transformational way.”
But being first fan also has meant explaining some of the athletic department’s difficult times, starting a month after he became chancellor.
Missouri’s $75 million basketball arena opened a few days before news broke that the building’s namesake, Paige Laurie — the daughter of benefactor Bill Laurie and a student at Southern California — had paid a classmate to do her schoolwork. Paige Sports Arena quickly became Mizzou Arena.
Two years later, Deaton focused on another crisis. After six straight losses by Quin Snyder’s basketball program, Alden dispatched Mizzou radio commentator Gary Link to tell Snyder he wouldn’t be retained after the season. Snyder resigned immediately.
Internal investigations followed, and on the day Mike Anderson was introduced as the Tigers’ new coach, the Board of Curators met to discuss Alden’s future. It was Deaton who confirmed to reporters that Alden had kept his job.
Advance the time line to Nov. 6, 2011, the day Deaton handed SEC Commissioner Mike Slive a Mizzou football helmet and confetti fluttered all around.
Missouri had joined the SEC, severing its relationship with the conference it helped launch in Kansas City more than a century ago and — for now — ending athletic relationships with its Border War rival, Kansas.
For Deaton, conference realignment had been a journey of uncertainty and conflict.
In 2010, when Colorado and Nebraska announced their departures and Texas was believed to be leading several other Big 12 schools into the PAC-12, Missouri was left to wonder about its future conference affiliation, with tens of millions of dollars in league-generated revenue from television contracts and bowl games hanging in the balance.
That crisis passed, but another appeared before the kickoff of the 2011 season when Oklahoma threatened to leave. School president David Boren said, “I don’t think there’s any chance OU’s going to end up being a wallflower.”
That sentiment shook Missouri. Football coach Gary Pinkel had already publicly expressed frustration with the Big 12 and Texas’ introduction of a cable network devoted entirely to its interests called The Longhorn Network.
The day after Boren’s statement, Missouri opened its football season against Miami of Ohio. Before the game kicked off, Deaton and Alden met on the rooftop of the press box with interim System President Steve Owens and MU legal counsel Phil Hoskins. Until that day, Deaton had said the Tigers were committed to remaining in the Big 12.
But the decision was made there to pursue other options, and Deaton soon called his friend, University of Florida President Bernie Machen, who said he thought the SEC would favorably consider a Missouri candidacy.
Until that weekend, Deaton believed the Big 12 would survive, even after Texas A&M had announced its departure to the SEC. He was serving as chairman of the Big 12 Board of Directors, speaking on behalf the conference.
As more SEC exploration was occurring, Deaton resigned that role and the Tigers were all in with their SEC candidacy.
Weeks later, the confetti flew amid the SEC celebration. Owens said Deaton’s place in Missouri’s sports history — through the good times and bad — would be remembered favorably.
“He’ll have a wonderful legacy, and this will be part of it,” Owens said.