University of Missouri-Kansas City Chancellor Leo Morton announced Wednesday he would leave the school in October to return to his business roots.
Morton, who has been UMKC’s chancellor since 2008, said in May that he wouldn’t retire until after the 2017-18 academic year.
“I still have several major projects that I want to complete before I retire,” Morton said three months ago.
But a university announcement released Wednesday said Morton, 71, has accepted the position of chief operating officer at DeBruce Companies, a multibillion-dollar Kansas City company. He also will serve as chancellor emeritus of UMKC.
“This is a unique opportunity for me to put my skills and experience to the highest and best use in service to a community I love, so I have moved up my scheduled retirement from UMKC to seize the day,” Morton said in a statement.
“I wouldn’t be comfortable doing this if I did not have the utmost confidence in the UMKC leadership team to provide strong direction and management of the university in the interim. Kansas City’s university is in very capable hands.”
The university has appointed Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, UMKC provost and executive vice chancellor, to serve as interim chancellor.
Morton’s business career included stints at Aquila, AT&T Microelectronics, Bell Laboratories, General Motors and Corning Glass.
He was serving as president of the UMKC board of trustees when Gary Forsee, at the time University of Missouri System president, tapped him in July 2008 to step in as interim chancellor. Five months later, Morton was named chancellor.
During his tenure at UMKC, Morton presided over a time of significant growth in enrollment and the physical campus, including construction of the Henry W. Bloch School of Management which was at the center of a UMKC scandal over the submission of false data when applying for rankings and awards from national organizations.
The Star reporters investigated the wrongdoing at the business school and uncovered it in a 2015 story, resulting in the university being stripped of top 25 rankings.
Over the years, Morton has been praised by many as a champion for UMKC.
“In his nine years of leadership, Chancellor Morton’s impact on UMKC and Kansas City has been stellar on so many levels,” University of Missouri System President Mun Choi said in a statement.
“We accept his departure with mixed feelings — regret that he won’t be with us as long as we hoped, but also with much gratitude for all that he has accomplished in his time at Kansas City’s university.”
Choi called UMKC “a university on the rise” and said he was looking forward to what the university will accomplish in the future.
Morton’s announcement comes months after the university announced the elimination of roughly 30 jobs and other budget cuts because of reduced state funding. Bichelmeyer, appointed provost by Morton in 2015, has been a key player in shepherding the university through those difficult budget times.
“For two years, I have had a front-row seat to observe how to provide effective, dedicated leadership for Kansas City’s university,” Bichelmeyer said in a statement.
“As both a member of the UMKC community, and a Kansas Citian, I am profoundly grateful to Leo Morton for both his service, and his example. Our university enjoys a level of civic support that few urban research universities can match. That is the keystone of Leo’s legacy.”