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Timothy Wolfe's speech accepting UM System presidency

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 | 7:09 p.m. CST; updated 11:12 p.m. CST, Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The following is the speech new UM System President Timothy Wolfe gave at a news conference Tuesday in Reynolds Alumni Center at MU. This speech was transcribed from a reporter's recording.

Brady, I have to agree with you, this is a fun crowd. Thank you for your confidence and kind words. I’d also like to thank the other members of the Board of Curators for giving me this opportunity to lead and to serve this outstanding university.

Thank you Brady and Steve for the warm welcome. This is a very, very special homecoming for my family and me.

Especially what makes this so outstanding is the ability to lead this institution that has had such a remarkable past and today is advancing the state in so many dimensions. This university has the unbelievable potential to affect the lives of the 72,000 students that we currently have on campus.

And that comes from the quality and commitment from our faculty and staff. The university also has the unique ability to touch a lot of Missourians. The touching of those Missourians comes through our outstanding health care system, the professionals and programs and our extension and outreach to every county and every single day, through our ability to help small businesses grow and prosper and through our ability to create new businesses and jobs when we move our faculty innovation from research out into the marketplace. Serving this great institution is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. I commit my full attention and energy to this endeavor.

It’s obvious to me, and I need to make it obvious to everybody in the state of Missouri that the University of Missouri System is the state’s greatest asset. I guess by now you’re saying, "Who’s Tim Wolfe?" So let me try and help and answer that question.

As Warren said, first and foremost, I’m a proud Missourian. I grew up in Columbia. I’m a result of the Columbia Public School system. I graduated from MU’s Trulaske College of Business. After college, I joined IBM, and I spent 20 fantastic years in a variety of leadership positions. After IBM, I joined a global consulting firm called Covansys as their executive vice president. And subsequently, I joined a software company called Novell as the president of the Americas. In April of this year, the Novell corporation was acquired by the Attachmate company.

A few months later, while I was enjoying my short time off, some people call it unemployment, some call it retirement, the new term that the executive team at Novell that were all in the same position; we called it fun-employment. We were fun-employed for a period of time until I got a call from Warren inquiring about my interest in the role of president of the system.

Needless to say, I was flattered by the call, but I really never considered a following in my parents' footsteps in having a role in higher education. After spending many hours talking with a number of people about what this opportunity meant, talking to people about the presidency, talking to people about higher education in general. And then doing a lot of personal research as to the opportunity, I concluded that my Missouri roots, my leadership experiences, as well as my passion for higher education could help further the university system in its quest for excellence and teaching research, service and economic development.

Let me spend a few seconds talking about where this passion for higher education comes from.

It’s both biological and intellectual. First of all it starts with my parents. Both my parents, as you heard, are college professors. My dad, Joe, taught in the communication department here in the Missouri College of Arts and Science for 30 years. My mother, Judith, who is also here today, earned her bachelor's degree in education, (and) two masters, one in library information science and one in public administration. If that wasn’t enough, she also got her law degree. All of these degrees were from the University of Missouri. For nearly two decades, she has been a law professor at the Massachusetts School of Law in Andover. So I guess, in conclusion, my passion is in my DNA for higher ed. 

In addition to this biological attraction to higher ed, I also had this intellectual and business attraction over the years to universities. I currently serve on the University of Missouri Trulaske College of Business Strategic Development Board. Previously, I was on the University of Arkansas' business school board. I’ve also spent considerable time at Harvard. I graduated from their advanced management program in 1995. I have a lot of friends that are professors at Harvard University, and I’ve used them, as well as friends at Babson, (and) Wharton, to have strategic discussions as well as economic development opportunities. And lastly, we worked with these professors at creating customized training for the companies that I represented.

Coming back home to Missouri has long been a dream for our family. My wife, Molly, who’s here today, grew up in Kansas City and, in the interest of full disclosure, she attended a university west of here with the initials KU. But I do promise you that she will wear proudly the colors of our four universities. Right?

My 16-year-old twins, Tyler and Madison, also here, 16 soon to be 17, are juniors in high school, are in the process of looking at colleges. Yes, they will look at our four campuses and no, they will not look at the university I mentioned.

I’d like to introduce my wife, Molly, my daughter, Madison, my son, Tyler, my mom and dad. If you would please stand up. Thank you very much.

Since we’re on the topic of families, let me now talk about the University of Missouri System family. I want to thank the system again for the opportunity to work with you as your next president. I’d like to thank you in advance for all that you will continue to do to fulfill our mission in serving the state of Missouri. That we are viewed as leaders amongst our peers, and we’re ultimately recognized as the best public research university, not only in the nation, but in the world. I’d also like to thank the Board of Curators for their faith and confidence in me. I will depend upon the Board of Curators to navigate this large university ecosystem. I’ll need to lean on them constantly for their advice and counsel on significant matters of policy, strategic positioning and of course, funding. 

The four chancellors and the system general officers have been very welcoming, and they will play a major role in preparing and supporting me for the challenges ahead. For that, I extend my sincerest thanks to each of them. I also want to take an opportunity to thank the members of the presidential search committee that braved this surprise Dec. 6 snowstorm. I thought Columbia was prepared for snowstorms, but that day obviously snuck up on us all. They came in from all parts of the state of Missouri. It was a great conversation. I’ve met some brilliant new colleagues, and we’ve already started exchanging some ideas about what the opportunity holds for us, both for the University of Missouri System.

There’s also a few people that I need to spend some time thanking individually. Steve Owens, thank you for your interim leadership as president. Equally as important, thank you for what you’re going to do in transitioning. He’s been a great partner, and I can’t wait to work with him for many months and years to come. 

In addition, thanks to Gary Forsee, who graciously spent considerable amount of time with me enlightening me on the challenges and the opportunities of being a president. Gary’s description of the opportunity to give back to your alma mater, as well as the potential to give more students the same opportunity that he and I enjoyed by attending the University of Missouri campus that set that strong and firm foundation in which we built our career on. That was really ... that conversation with Gary was the difference-maker in me deciding to compete as vigorously as possible to be the next president of the University of Missouri System.

I also want to thank board Chair Warren Erdman for the call he made to me as well as the stewardship in leading a very thorough search process that resulted in me standing in front of you today. The University of Missouri System is very fortunate to have someone as capable and as committed as Warren, and indeed the same commitment is shared by the rest of the curators. 

The thoroughness and intensity of this search process was very illuminating to me. What I found out was the faculty across all the campuses are clearly committed to delivering quality education in conducting meaningful and applied basic research. And they fully understand the importance of doing so for the future of not only the students but the citizens and businesses across the state of Missouri. 

Let me proudly give you a few examples of what their commitment has led to. Our student population is increasing; the past nine years the Columbia campus has been the fastest growing Association of American University school. Let me remind you the AAU is the top 61 schools, based on research, both public and private in U.S. and Canada. It is the best of the best from the school ranking, and we’re number one in growth in the Columbia campus.

In addition to the Columbia campus, the other three campuses have also experienced record growth. So not only is quantity up, but also the quality of the students that are coming in is increasing dramatically as well. The ability of our freshman coming to our campuses, as measured by their average ACT score, has increased. The important diversity statistics have increased. Retention, as measured by how many of your students stay from your freshman to sophomore year, have also increased. Then finally, the graduation rates, as measured by how many people graduate within six years, has also increased at the same time.

So let me draw a conclusion. If you happen to send your child to the University of Missouri, here’s what you’re going to expect. First of all, it’s a (word unclear), any of the system campuses. It’s a great place to come. Once they’re there, they’re going to stay, and they’ll graduate on time. But those are your bragging rights that are really unique to the four campuses that we have at the University of Missouri System.

In addition to research, we’re now running a $330 million (word unclear), which is very, very strong. Needs to get bigger. The university extension team has continued to touch over 1 million Missouri citizens on an annual basis. And they touch them through their small business growth programs providing nutrition and health, support to the state, as well as cultivating our state’s young people with the 4H and the other programs.

Our University Health Care system continues to serve our fellow citizens. In the last year, 21,000 patients have been admitted to one of our system hospitals. In addition to that, half a million people have visited their clinics, and on top of that, the faculty and alumni are providing health care and support to remote doctors and other health care providers across the state. So the number of citizens that we actually touch through our health care system extension program is far greater than the million I referenced earlier.

The last accomplishment I’d like to talk about is the decision that Brady [Deaton] and Mike [Alden] made relative to joining the SEC. That took courage, and it’s absolutely the right decision for our flagship campus. I’m tremendously excited to be a part of the SEC. So what I’d like to ask, all the accomplishments that I just talked to, could we all give a round of applause. The recognition is well deserved.

The interesting thing is these amazing results achieved across the university system are even more meaningful because of the economic environment that we’re in as well as the 10-year slide in state funding. So even though there’s been pressure from a funding standpoint, pressure from a support standpoint, that didn’t slow us down, and we still continue to deliver unbelievable accomplishments. Also, as part of this intense search process, I found out that each of our campuses are truly unique and each one has successfully identified the need of the marketplace that they have chosen to serve. They put strategies in place to serve that marketplace they’ve defined, and they’re well into the execution of those strategies. I compliment them for the success that they’ve achieved.

If we’re going to keep this momentum, which I think we will, we have to continue to find ways to creatively deliver high quality education to more people at a lower cost. More extensive use of technology for our e-learning initiatives is critical to our mission. We have to increase the amount of research we do as well as work with Missouri’s business leaders and political leaders at coming up with an economic development agenda that leads to more job creation for the graduates that will come from the four campuses.

The University of Missouri System is in place to serve our four campuses. Our job is to help foster the innovation and entrepreneurship that currently exists on the campuses. As president, I will ensure that the system continues to work with the campuses by accountability to our constituents on our success against specific goals. We support the intent of Gov. Nixon’s performance-based funding challenge, and we will be accountable for our results.

Also, the university system needs to facilitate the discussion of what we want to look like in the future and how we’re going to get there. We need to chart our own course and not have somebody else chart that course for us. I need to initiate a dialogue with the entire university family, and that’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors, supporters. By engaging them, we will identify a plan for emerging opportunities that are in the marketplace today. We also need to plan for where critical new revenue streams and capital gains come from and how we can address the learning challenge in the new information age that, at the end of the day, will result in more student success. 

Before I start this dialogue, I need to learn more about the University of Missouri System. There’s no shortcut in this important education; it’s going to take time. I will need to take advantage of the incredible expertise and knowledge that resides in our faculty, alumni and donors. Over the next couple months, I am looking forward to visiting each of the campuses and meeting with each one of these constituency groups to listen to what their ideas, opportunities and challenges are.

Admittedly, this will be a cram course. And just like in college, I expect to have to pull a few all-nighters, but I'm up for this challenge. Steve Owens has agreed to serve in the interim role as president as I begin my journey of enlightenment. When I move into University Hall in mid-February, I will be more prepared to, as they say, to drink from the fire hose. After absorbing as much as I can in my travels, the system family needs to begin the formal process of charting our future, our priorities, how we engage business, political and civic leadership of the state as we go forth.

This formal process that we will build together needs to be inclusive and open. In the proudest tradition of the academy, it needs to incorporate different points of view, weighing many options and alternatives, respecting every opinion brought into the dialogue, and it needs to set the course that we can all get behind, have ownership in and be successful.

In the end, we need to have a vision that illuminates to our state and all of our important constituency groups, the critical importance of higher education in our economy, our health, and for our future generations. If we do our job, our vision and strategies will be so compelling that we attract the support and financial resources from this state, from businesses, from alumni and donors to fund our growth and pay our people competitive wages and be recognized as Missouri’s greatest asset.

I understand I do not have a career in academia, but I vividly understand the importance of higher education, and I respect and admire the academy in all that it does. I will work tirelessly with all of you to enable our campuses to realize their full potential and find resources necessary to give Missouri the technology, research and the educated citizenry that it needs to compete and provide meaningful employment for our young people in the future. 

Our mission is clear, our ability to realize our potential requires collaboration, requires creativity, making tough trade-offs, hard work, team work, impeccable execution, sense of humor and the financial resources to execute our strategy. I’m confident that we have the team or family to make this happen, and I’m ecstatic and proud to be the newest member of the University of Missouri family. Thank you again for bestowing this great honor and responsibility in me. I take it as a solemn obligation to each of you, to each of the university’s constituencies. I can’t wait to get started. From my family to yours, happy holidays, and again, thanks. 


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