In a surprise move Tuesday the University of Missouri System named a University of Texas vice president as UMKC’s new chancellor, passing over the woman who held the post on an interim basis and was a candidate for the job.
C. Mauli Agrawal, vice president for academic affairs at the University of Texas at San Antonio, was chosen chancellor by UM System President Mun Choi.
UMKC Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer, who has served as interim chancellor since August, had been the expected front-runner.
Bichelmeyer was named interim chancellor when, after nine years, Leo Morton stepped away from the post to take a job with DeBruce Companies, a grain firm in Kansas City.
“I know there are people who are surprised that Dr. Bichelmeyer is not the choice that Dr. Choi made, but nevertheless this was a splendid choice,” said Professor Linda Mitchell, chair of the UMKC Faculty Senate.
“The best outcome was to have Dr. Agrawal as our chancellor and Dr. Bichelmeyer as our provost. They are the dream team.”
Bichelmeyer will return to her duties as university provost once Agrawal is in place June 20. She said in a statement she was excited to partner with Agrawal.
“His background and experiences complement the mission and vision of UMKC – and together, with all the great partners on this campus and in this metro area, we will keep the momentum going as we grow UMKC into the great university this region needs.”
Agrawal said in a statement that he, too, was excited.
“UMKC has all the elements necessary to make a great university.” he said. “With strengths in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, business, engineering, arts and theater, the university is an exceptional anchor for economic development in the Kansas City region.”
Bichelmeyer has been leading several key initiatives at the university, including academic reorganization, strategic plan development and the budgeting process.
Choi said those initiatives will move forward but did not say whether Bichelmeyer will continue to lead them.
“I will work closely with Bichelmeyer to make the important and necessary changes during the transition period,” Choi said. “We are indebted to her for her work in continuing to move UMKC forward. She will be a great asset to Dr. Agrawal as he moves into this position.”
Some faculty members said they were taken aback by Choi’s choice.
“I was surprised,” said Allan Katz, a UMKC distinguished professor of public affairs and political science. “I believed that Dr. Bichelmeyer would be the chancellor. I think there were a lot of people who supported her candidacy and were hoping she would be in that position. I’m sure it was a hard choice.”
Mitchell, who was involved with the system’s chancellor search, said “Dr. Bichelmeyer was very much a part of it.” She said the search committee had “an incredible group of finalists.”
Agrawal was identified by a search team of UM System administrators who reached out to higher education leaders across the country.
The team was looking for a chancellor with characteristics developed by a UMKC chancellor search committee formed by Choi. The characteristics were drawn from a series of public forums held at UMKC.
Traditionally the UM System has hired a search firm to look nationally to fill a chancellor position.
UM System spokesman Christain Basi said that wasn’t done in this case “in an effort to save money on the search.” He said using an in-house search team saved the university about $150,000.
Agrawal was one of two dozen resumes reviewed by the search team. The list of candidates was narrowed first to eight for interviews. From among three finalists, Choi chose Agrawal.
As chancellor he will be paid a $400,000 a year base salary and a one-time moving cost of up to $20,000. He also will receive a $15,000-a-year housing allowance and a $15,000-a-year auto allowance.
Ramin Cherafat, CEO of McCownGordon Construction and president of the UMKC Alumni Association, said Agrawal “demonstrated a clear passion for working with alumni and civic leaders...”
He said Agrawal “understands the important role that higher education institutions play in economic development, including new research discoveries and the development of a highly trained workforce...”
Agrawal joined the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2003 as a professor and associate dean for research in the College of Engineering. He advanced to dean in 2006. In May 2013 he was named interim vice president for research, a position he held until being named vice president the following year. In 2016, he was appointed interim provost.
Agrawal earned a doctorate from Duke University in 1989, a master’s degree from Clemon University in 1985 and a bachelor’s degree from IIT-Kanpur in India.
His work was well regarded in San Antonio, where the College of Engineering’s enrollment increased 40 percent and funding increased by 400 percent. In 2010 he worked with San Antonio city leaders to launch the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute at USTA.
“Mauli is a beloved member of the San Antonio community who has earned admiration and respect from the university community, the business community and civic leadership,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a statement.
USTA President Taylor Eighmy said Agraway has “left a profound impact on our institution with great work supporting engineering, research and the academic enterprise.”
Eighmy said the UMKC chancellorship is “a wonderful opportunity” for Agraway and his wife, Sue.
Choi said he was thrilled that Agrawal had accepted the post. “I’m confident that the university will reach new heights of success in research, education and outreach through his leadership.”