Gary Forsee is stepping down as president of the University of Missouri System, effective immediately, he told the Board of Curators Friday.
Forsee said he and his wife, Sherry, need time to focus on her recovery from cancer. Sherry Forsee was diagnosed with cancer after an emergency appendectomy in late November. He had been on extended temporary leave since Dec. 2.
Board of Curators President Warren Erdman said the board will begin a search immediately for the 23rd system president but would not set a deadline for completing the search.
In addition, he said the curators have appointed Steve Owens, general counsel, as interim president.
The curators met in a 90-minute closed meeting to discuss the matter. In a statement after the meeting, Owens said he would not be a candidate for the permanent position.
Forsee told the curators that his wife is recovering well from recent surgery and will begin a treatment regimen to ensure she remains cancer-free.
In a letter e-mailed to UM faculty, staff and students, Forsee said: "After a long working career, LOTS of moves and working regularly from multiple locations, it is clearly time for us to get Sherry’s next six months of treatment completed and to focus on our family and great friends."
Forsee, 60, was named president in December 2007 and assumed the position in mid-February 2008.
A graduate of the University of Missouri-Rolla, now called Missouri University of Science and Technology, he came to the system after serving as chairman and chief executive officer of Sprint Nextel Corp. and as vice chairman of BellSouth Corp., where he was responsible for domestic operations and chaired the Cingular Wireless venture.
In a post-announcement press release, Erdman cited a list of accomplishments under Forsee, who became president as the UM System confronted an economic crisis that also gripped the world.
Among those accomplishments were:
- Consistently strong operating performance during the most challenging economic climatebecause of strategic financial decisions and stringent cost controls that resulted in improved credit ratings.
- Agreement with Gov. Jay Nixon, the General Assembly and the campuses to hold tuition flat for two years. That tuition freeze will end this year as the university faces more severe budget limitations.
- Creation of the new University of Missouri Health Care enterprise.
- New private-public partnerships, such as the Mizzou-Cerner Tiger Institute for Health Innovation, that are focused on innovation and creation of new university revenue streams.
- Achievement of $115 million in documented cost savings through campus and system efficiency and effectiveness measures.
Much of his work in the past 18 months has been concentrated on maintaining steady financial health in a challenging economy.
In November 2009, Forsee ordered a hiring freeze across the system. He also asked for reduced spending in nonsalary areas, imposed a wage freeze and secured the curators' approval to institute emergency furloughs if necessary in the summer.
Those furloughs were never imposed, but the wage and hiring freezes have continued on some level. University employees were also asked to contribute to their retirement funds, and the curators have been working through a revised benefits plan that would be more advantageous to the system.
Forsee's resignation letter alluded to the demands of the job:
"The University President's role is a statewide, '24X7' commitment to support the teaching, research, service and economic development mission of our four campuses. This is a role both Sherry and I have taken on, and with passion. We have enjoyed the opportunity to serve our State and help in any way we could during what has certainly proven to be a challenging time."
In prepared statements, both Gov. Nixon and Sen. Kurt Schaefer acknowledged his contributions.
“I greatly appreciate the leadership Gary Forsee has demonstrated over the past three years, as he has capably led Missouri’s university system through a period of record enrollment growth. President Forsee has provided a steady hand at the tiller throughout his tenure," Nixon said his statement.
According to Schaefer, "During his time as UM System president, Gary raised the credibility level of the University of Missouri at the State Capitol, and he leaves the system in better shape than when he came in."