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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Stick to the process for picking Missouri State University president

Thursday, July 21, 2011 | 5:01 p.m. CDT

Editor's note: Like the UM System, Missouri State University in Springfield is searching for a new president. This editorial from the Springfield News-Leader reflects on the presidential search process at MSU.

Clif Smart, Missouri State University's interim president, is intelligent, competent, honest, fair, a unifier and a straight talker, according to supporters and colleagues.

We applaud the university board for appointing Smart, MSU's legal counsel for more than three years, after the surprise resignation of James Cofer last month.

But while he appears to be an excellent choice for the interim job, the Board of Governors should be in no rush to anoint him as the permanent president.

Instead, they should follow Smart's own advice and follow an open and inclusive process to determine who will be the next permanent MSU president.

The Springfield News-Leader gathered this comment from Smart about the process:

"If we get input on every issue from all the groups, and if we communicate our reasoning when a decision is made, and we are truthful about what we are doing, I think by and large we will be successful."

The university's Board of Governors should take that to heart. When Cofer was hired less than a year ago, a faculty committee had been asked to participate in the process, but members felt their input was ignored and that they were largely shut out of the decision. Even board member Gordon Elliott recognized that when he acknowledged the need to "make sure everyone believes the process is open."

In a few short weeks, Smart has already taken steps to include faculty by meeting with them and speaking frankly about his plans — including a pay raise for faculty and staff.

Smart's actions before his appointment also speak well of him. He has rarely submitted charges for meals, even while traveling to China for the university, and has turned down housing and car allowances since his appointment.

If he chooses to apply for the permanent spot, Smart could be a top contender when a new board is in place and is ready to begin a search, possibly a year or more from now.

But the job demands more than brains and political skills. The president must be able to hold his or her own with the faculty. They must be able to develop and execute on a strong vision and strategy. And there are many other demands, including fundraising.

Getting the right person will be key to MSU's future. And an open and transparent process will go a long way to guarantee the board finds the right person for the job.

Copyright Springfield News-Leader. Reprinted with permission.


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