The University of Missouri’s new chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, came to Columbia on Thursday with a mandate to boost MU’s standing among the nation’s top research universities.
He also came with a new bow tie, his sartorial signature — this one gold and black — that he wore when he was introduced by UM System President Tim Wolfe.
Loftin, outgoing president of Texas A&M University, “is regarded as one of the top academic leaders in the nation and one of the most beloved and respected presidents in the history of Texas A&M, and we are honored to have him join us at the University of Missouri,” Wolfe said.
Loftin, 64, led Texas A&M through almost four years of “tremendous growth and advancement,” Wolfe said. He noted that under Loftin, A&M has held tuition flat the past two years.
A&M has more than 56,000 students; MU has about 35,000.
Wolfe called Loftin “a perfect fit” for MU, which like A&M is a public land-grant institution that is a member of the Association of American Universities. The AAU is a selective, nonprofit group of 62 leading public and private universities that focus on graduate study and research. More than half of the doctoral degrees awarded in the United States come from AAU institutions.
Loftin, who announced his resignation as A&M’s leader in July to spend more time with students and do research, said he was approached about the MU job about two months ago.
“I didn’t even know Missouri was looking for a chancellor,” he said.
He was selected from among three finalists identified during a national search that began shortly after former Chancellor Brady Deaton announced in June that he would retire Nov. 15.
“It’s clear the fact that I was president of an AAU university was a critical thing for MU,” Loftin told members of the media after addressing an audience of faculty, students and administrators who showed up to greet him Thursday.
He said much of his job will be making sure MU matches membership criteria set by the AAU, including federal research grants and quality of faculty.
Deaton reported in June that among the 34 AAU institutions that are public schools, MU ranked 32nd but was aiming to rise to 28th by 2018.
MU has been an AAU university since 1908; Texas A&M joined in 2001.
In 2010, the association said that just because an institution had always been in AAU didn’t mean membership was a given. For the first time in more than 100 years, it voted out a school, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
“We can’t rest on our laurels,” Loftin said.
Loftin has been president at Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, since February 2010. He was named to that post after having served as the university’s interim president since June 2009.
His resignation from A&M is effective Jan. 1, a month shy of his four-year anniversary there. Texas media reported at the time he announced his resignation in July that Loftin had negotiated a departure package of more than $850,000, in addition to a tenured faculty and administrative position that would have paid him $311,000 annually.
At MU, Loftin will serve at will, not under contract, and is to be paid a $450,000 annual salary. He also gets a one-time incentive of $135,000 and a deferred compensation of $50,000, which would be forfeited if he leaves MU before three years.
Loftin, who starts Feb. 1, said he planned to stay at least five years, “maybe longer.”
In July, when Loftin announced he was leaving the A&M presidency, he said he had no intention of taking on another top leadership role at a university. He was looking forward to teaching.
In his goodbye letter to A&M students on Thursday, Loftin explained his new opportunity this way:
“I will be leading the oldest public university west of the Mississippi, a land-grant institution that shares much with Texas A&M — a rich history, membership in the Association of American Universities and the Southeastern Conference, an outstanding faculty and staff, and a passionate student body and alumni.”
In Columbia, he said, “I really do like students, and I still intend to go back to that at some point in my career.” But when he weighed working with dozens of students in an A&M classroom against affecting thousands as chancellor at MU, his decision was clear.
He said too that if an institution other than MU had approached him, he might not have responded.
Loftin said he grew up poor in Navasota, Texas, about 20 miles south of the A&M campus in College Station, where he got his undergraduate education. His father operated a dragline, a piece of heavy equipment, for the Texas Department of Transportation, and his mother was a retail cashier.
He said he’s partial to land-grant institutions like A&M and MU. They’re usually large public schools, often the first in their state, that were started with money from federal land grants awarded as part of an 1859 law.
A&M gave him the financial assistance he needed to get a college education, Loftin said, and “Missouri really defines land grant in this part of the country.”
He even credited MU with helping him launch his career as a physics professor. As a young professor, he did research at the MU nuclear reactor.
Then there’s A&M’s move to the SEC. Like Deaton at MU, Loftin led his university’s transition from the Big 12 athletic conference to the SEC in 2012.
MU faculty members said they were happy about Wolfe’s choice of Loftin.
“His priorities would fit our priorities,” said Craig Roberts, who chairs MU’s faculty council. “It makes sense. A&M is a top land-grant, research institution in the Association of American Universities.”
Roberts said faculty are “very pleased with this hire,” because Loftin “has excelled in research and teaching, and we try to emphasize both of those here. The reason that is important is that we need someone who demonstrates he can do what he is asking everyone else here to do. Someone who walks the walk. He has credibility.”
Before taking the reins as interim president and then president at Texas A&M, Loftin, a 1970 graduate of A&M, spent four years as the vice president and chief executive officer of the university’s branch campus in Galveston. He holds a master’s and a doctoral degree in physics, both from Rice University.
Under Loftin’s leadership, enrollment at Texas A&M grew to record numbers and the university racked up more than $700 million in research grants. At the time of his resignation, he was overseeing a university merger with Health Science Center and the acquisition of Texas Wesleyan Law School.
Loftin may be eager to continue his work in higher education, but his wife of more than 40 years, Karin C. Loftin, is retiring as an associate biosafety officer with the Office of Research Compliance and Biosafety at Texas A&M. He said she has no plans to join the MU faculty.
“She wants to be supportive and ride horses,” he said. She owns a Hanoverian horse named Fritz.
MU students are looking forward to Loftin’s chancellorship, said Jimmy Hibsch, student spokesman for the Missouri Students Association.
Hibsch met Loftin in January on the A&M campus during an SEC gathering.
“He had so much passion for that institution,” Hibsch said. “It is going to be exciting to see him transfer that same passion to MU. Granted, everyone is going to miss Brady Deaton, but the future is optimistic.”