UM curators to narrow presidential search to finalists

Friday, October 21, 2011 | 6:04 p.m. CDT; updated 7:34 p.m. CDT, Friday, October 21, 2011

KANSAS CITY — During 2 1/2 days of meetings, the UM System Board of Curators made substantial progress in the search for a new system leader.

The curators hope to narrow the field of candidates to a point that a list of finalists can be presented to the presidential search advisory committee within the next two weeks, board Chairman Warren Erdman said Friday.

Erdman would not comment on the number of remaining candidates and reiterated there is no timeline for making a decision. Former system President Gary Forsee resigned in January, and Steve Owens has been serving as interim president.

The press conference followed a closed executive session with the full board that lasted more than 90 minutes.

On Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, curators met for 10 hours at The Raphael Hotel in Kansas City to talk about the presidential search. Before the meeting, Erdman said the committee would be conducting routine business and no action would be taken.

During meetings Thursday, the board approved a range of topics, including a new retirement plan.

No new information was introduced about the retirement plan Thursday, but at an Oct. 4 meeting in St. Louis, curators reviewed a final proposal presented by Betsy Rodriguez, UM System vice president for human resources.

The approved retirement plan will take effect for new employees in October 2012. Rodriguez will make a recommendation on a vendor to handle the new retirement plan investments at a Dec. 8 meeting, and the curators will continue to wrap up details throughout the first half of next year.

'The arts are big business'

Before entering into executive session Friday morning, the curators held a public meeting focused on the system's role in advancing arts education in the state. Erdman set the stage by emphasizing the economic impact of the arts nationwide.

"The arts are big business, and they are indispensable to economic development," Erdman said. "Make no mistake, creating arts is central to economic development."

Erdman also introduced a short video highlighting some of the work being done to advance arts on the four UM campuses.

It showed the work of one student composer from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the role of an art history professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology in restoring a film about Thomas Hart Benton. The video also showed an overview of MU's Museum of Art and Archaeology and how the University of Missouri-St. Louis's performing arts center serves as a creative laboratory on campus.

Following Erdman's speech, interim President Owens reiterated that arts education is a fundamental part of the system's mission to produce well-rounded graduates.

"Art education expands the minds, enhancing other fields of study," Owens said. "If you want better doctors and engineers, educate them in the arts."

Owens pushed the board to continue to believe in the arts and humanities as a vital part of school curriculum. He said his concern is that if not careful, the system could become too concerned about monetizing education to get the most return for its investment in students.

Owens argued that as educators, the system needs to take the time and money to educate students in the arts to create critical-thinking, problem-solving members of society.

Fostering arts appreciation

Following Owens' speech, the system's four chancellors spoke about the arts on their campuses and how they are part of each school's identity in the community.

UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton spoke of the school's mission to become a performing arts leader in Kansas City and maintained the university has done that by strengthening partnerships with local art centers, including the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

"The Kauffman Center alone is a national icon, and at UMKC we are contributing to this regional image in some major ways," Morton said.

Morton also emphasized the connections arts groups in Kansas City have to the university. He said 15 arts groups trace their genesis to UMKC arts faculty, students or alumni.

MU Chancellor Brady Deaton spoke about the work the MU School of Music does to foster arts in Columbia, including the Mizzou New Music Initiative.

The program provides scholarships for student composers and the opportunity for graduate-level students to perform original works of music. Deaton said hearing students' original compositions has been one of the most exciting experiences of his career.

"It's an incredible experience I would invite you to enjoy, because it's not often you get a chance to do that," he said.

Deaton went on to highlight award-winning alumni and faculty, including assistant art professor J. Brett Grill, who recently unveiled his seven-foot bronze statue of former President Gerald Ford, and MU playwright David Crespy, who was recently awarded a national Gold Medallion at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

Chancellors from UMSL and Missouri S&T also spoke about the importance of arts in their educational communities.

UMSL Chancellor Thomas George said his university is deeply involved in St. Louis by sponsoring galleries and public radio and reaching out to students through precollegiate arts outreach programs.

George said the project to put UMSL offices, classrooms and St. Louis Public Radio in Grand Center puts the school at the center of the local arts community.

Missouri S&T interim Chancellor Warren Wray said that even as a science and technology campus, Missouri S&T is still actively involved in the arts and strives to be an arts center in Rolla.

Erdman said after the presentations it's comforting to see all four universities engaged in the arts and in their students.

Health 'wired' for success

The curators concluded their open session meeting with the annual University Health System report from Hal Williamson, University of Missouri Health System vice chancellor. The report included an update of the Tiger Institute for Health Innovation, created by a partnership between MU and Cerner Corp.

Williamson said the institute aims to be able to analyze how the hospital uses technology to practice better medicine and was recently recognized as one of the nation's "Most Wired" hospitals, according to the 2011 Most Wired Survey, which recognizes the most technologically advanced hospitals in the country.

The board's next regularly scheduled meeting is set for Dec. 8-9 at UMSL.

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