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COMMENTARY: An open letter to the new UM System president, Tim Wolfe

Thursday, December 15, 2011 | 5:32 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — An open letter to the new president of the University of Missouri System, Tim Wolfe:

Welcome home, Tim. As the 23rd president of the UM System, you've inherited one of the wackiest families in the country.

You're in charge of four campuses that need constant love and attention. As a parent yourself, you have to understand the scope of what it takes to lead this growing family through tough times.

First, you need to get to know your kids — who they are and what they need from you:

  • MU: As the jock, the oldest sibling and the Association of American Universities honors student, MU is the system leader. It's the starting quarterback and perpetual homecoming royalty. It's doing just fine, improving even, but to keep growing and stay competitive it needs more money and more resources — being the biggest and best comes at a big financial investment.
  • Missouri University of Science and Technology: The nerd of the family is quickly becoming one of the most popular nerds in the state, and other, even smarter, nerds are flocking to it. Missouri S&T started a science club in your basement (aka Rolla) that's become so popular it's going to need a bigger space before it has to start turning away students. If the state can't give Missouri S&T the allowance it needs, you'll need to help fill the funding gap with new revenues so it can grow its campus housing, facilities and faculty — all to expand enrollment.
  • Universities of Missouri-Kansas City and St. Louis: Just like your own twins, Madison and Tyler, UMSL and UMKC have really grown up in the past few years. On opposite sides of the state, they serve similar types of students in similar urban regions and have become major forces in their respective cities. They're praised for their arts, and they crank out educated graduates who more often than not stay to become educated employees in the two biggest cities in the state.

It's easy to see that each of the campuses has different needs, but, Mr. President, you have to consider that your job is to do better for the whole. At the risk of oversimplifying:

Times are tough, and as the leader of four growing universities, you need to be able to be the breadwinner in this system. The state support that the system has always counted on is back down to the levels it was at a decade ago.

Now that you're back in Missouri, you need to get plugged into Jefferson City. Having a relationship with Gov. Jay Nixon, his office and the state's legislators will be key in convincing them that your four campuses deserve more money than they're getting.

UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton had it right when he said Tuesday that you need to market higher education to the state. Show legislators and the governor that funding higher education is truly in the best interest of the state's lagging economy. Show them that the more money your campuses get, the more they can grow and the more they can help drive the economy in their cities.

More importantly, more state support would alleviate the pressure already being put on students, alumni and donors to make up the growing funding gap.

You need to learn the in's and out's of working within and above the four campuses. Being the president means you'll need to work with each campus individually. But don't play favorites. It's just as important to see the system as a whole.

As a business executive, you've learned to cater to the customer while watching your bottom line and boosting revenues.

But the students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, donors and all of us who are so ingrained in the UM System aren't customers — we're much more than that.

Zach Murdock is a higher education writer for the Missourian. He blogs at zachmurdock.wordpress.com and tweets at @zach_murdock.


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Comments

Michael Williams December 15, 2011 | 5:36 p.m.

Missouri University of Science and Technology: The nerd of the family.........
__________________________

Uh oh. I heard Ellis stirrin' in his den. He's gonna be grumpier than a bear that pooped a pine cone.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 16, 2011 | 5:49 a.m.

Bill Gates is a nerd, and he didn't do too badly. If we had Bill's money we'd buy our campus from the state and privatize it. As desparate as both the state and University of Missouri System seem to be for cash we could probably negotiate a very good price.

[Our mascot, Joe Miner, is always shown armed. There's a reason for that.]

(Report Comment)

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