After a nine-month search, the University of Missouri curators have settled on a top administrator at the University of Connecticut as the 24th president of the university system.
Sources confirmed Monday that UConn provost Mun Y. Choi is the curators’ choice to lead the system, which includes the Kansas City, St. Louis, Rolla and Columbia campuses. The sources were familiar with the selection process and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The official announcement is to be made at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City.
Choi has an extensive background in engineering and is known for having more than 20 years of experience in developing nationally competitive innovative research programs. As UConn’s provost, Choi oversees academic affairs.
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The new president will be expected to play a major role in mending damage done to the flagship campus in Columbia a year ago when racial protests there attracted a national spotlight and led to the ouster of system President Tim Wolfe and MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin.
Wolfe was unpopular with some faculty and was criticized for never bonding with students, who said he failed to address issues of racism and systemic racial discrimination at the university.
The university’s reputation was also bruised by the way curators handled the eventual firing of an MU communications professor who last fall called for “muscle” to remove a student reporter who was documenting the campus protest. The negative attention made an already fragile relationship between the university and state lawmakers even worse, with threats of funding cuts.
MU officials declined to comment on a closed-door curators’ meeting Monday. “There is no official confirmation of candidates from this office,” said John Fougere, spokesman for the curators.
A spokesman for the University of Connecticut also declined to comment, and Choi could not be reached for comment.
Since the presidential search process began in February, no information has been released about the professional background of candidates who’ve been interviewed or how many were being considered.
After word of the apparent selection of Choi spread across the MU campus, faculty said they felt positive based on what they had heard.
“From the very beginning of this search process, faculty made it very clear that we wanted a president who had significant experience in running a university,” said Ben Trachtenberg, MU Faculty Council president.
The last two presidents to lead the university system — Gary Forsee and then Wolfe — had been business executives before taking the reins.
That Choi has been provost at UConn since December 2012 “is a good sign,” Trachtenberg said. “I am looking forward to meeting Dr. Choi and hearing his vision.”
Choi was appointed provost in Connecticut after having been interim provost there for the previous six months.
At the time he was appointed UConn provost, university President Susan Herbst boasted in a letter announcing Choi’s appointment that when he was dean of engineering, “undergraduate applications to the department went up by 124 percent and the number of undergraduate degrees earned increased by 64 percent. In addition, research grants increased by 143 percent.”
She also noted Choi’s “nearly two decades of experience in developing innovative research programs that are nationally competitive, original educational programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels to attract and retain students, and the building (of ) industry partnerships and private philanthropy to grow and support faculty, students and staff.”
Choi came to UConn from Drexel University in Philadelphia, where he was department head of mechanical engineering and associate dean for research. Prior to that, he was a faculty member in the mechanical engineering department at the University of Illinois from 1994 to 2000.
At some point before his teaching career took off, Choi was a National Research Council postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He received his master’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering and his doctorate in mechanical engineering from Princeton University. His undergraduate engineering degree is from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The University of Connecticut system has about 30,000 students, less than half the 77,700 students enrolled in the UM System. And while the UM System is a member of the Association of American Universities — which has 62 leading public and private research universities as members — UConn is not.
One possible connection to MU is that in 2012, Choi and now interim MU Chancellor Hank Foley were among the three finalist for the UConn provost position. At the time, Foley was vice president for research and dean of the graduate school at Penn State and also president of the Penn State Research Foundation.
While Choi was hired at Connecticut, in June 2013 Foley was named executive vice president for academic affairs for the UM System.
The Star was told that more than three weeks ago, the 16-member university Presidential Search Committee, made up of curators, alumni, two faculty members, a staff member and two students, had selected three final candidates from a preferred list of five.
Those choices were made after two days of closed-door meetings at the Kansas City Airport Marriott hotel. A final three names were said to have been passed to curators more than a week ago, with information about why the search committee liked each one. But no recommendation of its preference was given to curators.
Michael Middleton has been serving as interim president of the UM System since November. He came out of retirement to take the post until a new president could be found.