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GEORGE KENNEDY: Calling Kit Bond — your favorite university needs a new leader

Thursday, January 13, 2011 | 1:25 p.m. CST

When Kit Bond retired from the U.S. Senate, you could hear around the university a chorus of praise but an undertone of foreboding. Whatever his shortcomings as a statesman, he was certainly the university’s best friend in Washington. One reckoning I’ve read credits him with $400 million in federal largesse.

Then another blow. President Forsee announced last week his resignation after a three-year run that has earned almost universal praise. His rationale for quitting is beyond dispute, but his timing — just as the legislative session opens — wasn’t great.

So the lame duck Board of Curators, with three members serving expired terms and a fourth already gone to Florida, is launching both an expensive and time-consuming presidential search and an almost certainly losing struggle to preserve what’s left of the institution’s state funding.

The curators haven’t asked my advice, but here it is anyway:

Hire Kit.

Oh, I know he’s already taken another job with a big law firm. Not an obstacle. That kind of position will always be available to an honorably retired senator. (I have a friend who used to say he was going to name his next child “Former U.S. Senator” as a guarantee of social prominence and financial success. A real one has no shortage of opportunities.)

I also know he’s not an academic. Doesn’t matter. Neither was ex-President Forsee. A university has deans and provosts to do the academic stuff. Presidents and chancellors are primarily salesmen. Their real job is to sell their institution to the public, the legislature and other potential benefactors, governmental, corporate and individual.

If you see a similarity between the job description of a successful university president and that of a successful politician, it’s because the skill sets are virtually identical. To be good at either job, you have to be able to win friends, neutralize enemies and, above all these days, raise money — lots and lots of money.

In some ways, Kit’s a more obvious choice than Gary Forsee was. After all, Mr. Forsee had just been fired from his corporate job. The voters fired Kit once but quickly realized their mistake and didn’t repeat it. Mr. Forsee had been a sufficiently loyal and successful alum that the Rolla campus gave him an honorary doctorate. Kit, whose degrees are from Princeton and Virginia, already has a building named for him on the flagship campus. That ties him with Richard Jesse.

Did I mention the $400 million?

Of course, there’s always the possibility that Kit would turn us down. The prospects don’t look all that pleasing, with budget cutters in charge in Jeff City and a senior senator who regards pork as just the other white meat.

In case that happens, I have another suggestion.

Elson Floyd, whom I think of as the first of our new-breed university presidents, had some good ideas he didn’t stick around long enough to implement. One that should have special appeal in tough budget times was to combine the jobs of president and chancellor of the MU campus.

That brings me to Brady Deaton. He’s a fine chancellor, and he’d be a fine president. Everybody likes Brady. Beyond his obvious strengths as administrator and fundraiser, he offers another big advantage. He’s already here. No need to spend thousands of dollars and months of time, neither of which we can afford. And think of the savings: one salary, one residence, no moving costs.

There’d be some whining, no doubt, from partisans of the satellite campuses. They’d get over it. Brady’s bigger handicap is our institutional inferiority complex. If he’s all that good, we wonder, why is he still here? Maybe he won’t be, once the top job again goes to somebody else.

There you have it — two eminently reasonable nominations. No need to thank me, Curators, though I would consider a finder’s fee.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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Comments

Joy Mayer January 13, 2011 | 1:30 p.m.

This approach worked at the University of Oklahoma. When I was a student there, former Sen. David Boren took over the presidency, and I've heard mostly favorable reports.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 14, 2011 | 9:37 a.m.

Deaton for University President? Oh, please! The most honored (by his peers) chancellor at this university isn't located at Columbia.

Bond for University President? That actually makes sense, but would he consider it?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 14, 2011 | 11:47 a.m.

http://news.mst.edu/2010/01/missouri_st_...

Would he make a good university president? He's not particularly "political." He's doing a great job where he now is, and so say his peers in the region. BTW a former chancellor of the Rolla campus went on to be first President of Iowa State University and then President of Purdue University, but everyone who reads the Missourian is fully aware of that. Correct?

George, are you nice people EVER going to be able to look beyond the borders of the Columbia campus? It doesn't appear so. Believe it or not, there's a whole other world out there!

(Report Comment)
George Kennedy January 14, 2011 | 4:03 p.m.

I thought I might hear from the Rolla precinct. Sad to say, I don't know much about the chancellor down there, though I can't imagine why anyone would want to trade the delights of the School of Mines for the burdens of system presidency.

As you know, Columbia IS the center of the known universe. Why look elsewhere?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 15, 2011 | 5:38 a.m.

It's been 140 years since a second campus was added to University of Missouri, but obviously nothing has changed.

Pathetic. Well, you can just go back to endlessly contemplating your own navels.

(Report Comment)
Traci Wilson-Kleekamp January 15, 2011 | 1:48 p.m.

Seriously George?

Are there only TWO people that come to your mind that are capable of being the next MU president -- white elderly men? No women, no people of color? Shouldn't we do a SEARCH and FIND someone who will bring the MU system into the 21st century with an understanding of diversity? Someone who be a champion for diversity & inclusion and grow the university's capacity for the future? Will he or SHE represent ALL people -- or only those with privilege? We need progressive people at the top who will embrace a new way of thinking -- and challenge others to do the same. The same old comfort zone for YOU --maybe isn't what represents the future. I challenge that leadership needs to be re-thought, re-framed, re-structured and re-done. The same old good old boys? Please? Enough already!

Just my two cents.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 15, 2011 | 2:50 p.m.

@Traci Wilson-Kleekamp:

It's all that navel contemplation, Traci: they become VERY short-sighted. Indeed, they become myopic. :)

This University System needs a good male or female president who will be around for more than four or five years. Since 2000 we've had three presidents, Forsee included.

(Report Comment)
Traci Wilson-Kleekamp January 15, 2011 | 5:49 p.m.

I only brought the issue of diversity because the demographics of this state and nation are changing (have changed) and the needs of the next generation will be remarkably different. We have considerable challenges with access to healthcare, poverty and the high school drop out rate. Higher education plays an important role in this. We need leaders who understand this wave of change. They have to be more connected, technology saavy, OPEN to new ways of teaching and engaging that demands a broader coalition of leadership (having all the right people at the table to represent a more DIVERSE constituency) and a more flexible and responsive organization to rapid and constant change. We need a leader with multi-dimensional personal toolkit -- a sophisticated player who will understand that diversity must be at the core of the operation. I don't think that is there now....IMHO diversity is like technology -- an imperative for which we can make no excuses. Kit Bond? Brady Deaton? Let's see -- where they stand on these issues? Do they have a response? Do they have a plan to address this imperative? Before we roll out the "favorite stuff" --I say favorite for who? Will Deaton and Bond talk openly or in code about diversity or are they are scared that it will offend all those good old boys that look just like them. Here's challenge for you George. I'll be watching and waiting to see if anyone is brave enough to ask questions about DIVERSITY on the record for ANY MU presidential candidate. Please ask candidates to define what diversity means to them?

(Report Comment)

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