MU’s next chancellor will set the tone for years to come

11/01/2013 8:56 PM

11/01/2013 8:56 PM

Academic, mogul, money raiser or motivator.

The next chancellor of the University of Missouri’s flagship Columbia campus could be any or all of the above.

But the combination figures to drive the institution through the suddenly fast-shifting dynamics of the state’s most prominent university.

An 18-member search committee has interviewed an undisclosed number of candidates. Who these top Tiger wannabes are, where they are from and their career backgrounds — business, academics or politics — have been kept quiet to protect candidates who might not want a current boss to know they’re looking.

But at a time when the university’s administration is in transition — key cabinet members are retiring or newly hired — the decision will set the tone and direction of MU for years to come.

Current chancellor Brady Deaton leaves his nearly $400,000 annual salary and his seat in the head office of a campus with 35,000 students and 16,600 staff and faculty on Nov. 15. And he gets to stay on at MU heading up the Brady and Anne Deaton Institute for University Leadership in International Development.

When he announced his partial retirement in June, leaders of the four-campus university system said they expected to have a new chancellor in Columbia by the end of the fall semester, finishing Dec. 13.

This week, system president Tim Wolfe named a transition team, including system general counsel Steve Owens as the interim chancellor. Wolfe will pick the new chancellor, pending approval from the UM board of curators.

“Like the 21 leaders who have come before, the next chancellor must understand and respect this historic institution, its stakeholders and its role in Missouri while leading the university to new heights of greatness,” Wolfe said during a town hall forum earlier this year on what traits the community expects in MU’s next chancellor.

But what do those stakeholders want?

“Someone who can work well in the halls of Jefferson City,” said David Pearce, chairman of Missouri’s Senate Education Committee.

“Someone who understands scholarship, because this


a university,” agriculture professor Craig Roberts, chairman of MU’s Faculty Council on University Policy, said during a recent interview.

“We also need someone who understands the financial workings of a university,” Roberts said. “We can’t have money blown these days. We need someone with integrity. Brady Deaton got high marks for integrity. And we need someone who can represent us well to the system president. This cannot be a lapdog.”

Someone who cultivates “a good working relationship with the business community,” said Matt McCormick, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.

Public colleges across the country have regularly shifted the type of leader they look toward.

The University of Oklahoma named David L. Boren president after he served as the state’s governor and U.S. senator. The University of Missouri System turned to former Sprint CEO Gary Forsee in 2008. Retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Robert Foglesong led Mississippi State University from 2006 to 2008. And in 2001, Harvard called on economist and former Treasury secretary Larry Summers to lead the elite institution.

While experts say no single profile fits all institutions, more universities yearn for presidents with strategic planning and development expertise.

The job of the public university president “is much more about external relations than it ever was before,” said Bruce Alton, a senior consultant with the search division for the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. “Presidents spend 50 percent of their time building relationships and raising money.”

Presidents and chancellors of public colleges also dedicate loads of time making a case for higher education funding with state lawmakers. So what universities need these days, said Alton, a former president of Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mt., is someone who can bring people together. Someone, he said, who can sit comfortably between and communicate well with the business and the academic sectors.

For at least the last 50 years, since MU became the flagship campus of a four-campus system in 1963, its leaders have come from academia. And that doesn’t appear likely to change with MU’s 22nd chancellor.

Based on the position description posted on the system’s website, the job calls for a person with “an earned doctorate or other terminal degree, with a strong record of scholarship and teaching, and a proven history of executive level administrative experience in higher education.”

K. Johnson Bowles, associate vice president for corporate and foundation relations at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., said the person in that seat often needs to be all things to all people.

“A president must be able to communicate effectively with the board members, donors, lawmakers, community members, parents, students, staff and faculty,” said Bowles, a former fellow with the American Council on Education.

After visiting 30 campuses and interviewing 19 college presidents and their cabinet members, Bowles concluded that “the job requires the agility, stamina and fitness of a boxer, and the ability to take a punch.”

MU professor Anthony Lupo, vice president of the faculty council, agrees.

“The closer you get to the top position, the more nimble and more thick-skinned you have to be. Lonely is the head that wears the crown,” Lupo said.

More specifically, he said, MU faculty hope their next chancellor comes with an open mind and broad vision to see and “embrace the fact that the Columbia campus excels in many things, from agriculture to law, journalism and medicine,” Lupo said.

In other words, no discipline favoritism allowed.

A chancellor who “appreciates intellectual activity, who appreciates the role of research” is also important to faculty, said Gary Ebersole, University of Missouri-Kansas City professor of history and religious studies.

“We want someone who has political sense,” but not a politician, he said. “And the last thing we need is someone who uses the university position to further their career. Or someone from the military who thinks a university is a top-down hierarchy.”

Columbia business leaders want a chancellor who “understands the great link between the university and business and our great partnership,” said McCormick, the chamber of commerce official. “The university is one of the main economic drivers of Columbia.”

Missouri Sen. Jason Holsman of Kansas City said he is expecting that the next chancellor will be a visionary who “understands what it’s going to take to move the University of Missouri forward and to compete in this new higher education paradigm.”

Holsman said that since the Columbia campus has joined the Southeastern Conference, “our profile is raised.”

“Both athletically and academically, the ceiling is higher for where we can go as a university,” he said. “The new chancellor has the chance to be able to look into the future and take Mizzou to the tip of the spear.”

What do students want?

Very little change, said Jimmy Hibsch, an MU senior and vice president of the Missouri Student Association.

Students want to continue having an opportunity for accessible, affordable, high-quality education and research opportunities that will ultimately help them land a good job, Hibsch said.

“And we want someone who we’ll see walking around the quad,” Hibsch said. “We want someone you’re not afraid to introduce yourself to. Someone you can just walk right up to and shake his hand.”


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