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For UM System, a year of change: new president, new athletics conference

New UM System President Timothy Wolfe takes over Wednesday
Wednesday, February 15, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:24 a.m. CST, Thursday, February 16, 2012
Timothy M. Wolfe waves after the announcement of his appointment as the University of Missouri System president. Wolfe will take over the duties of current Interim President Stephen Owens in mid-February.

COLUMBIA — The past year has been one of change for the University of Missouri System, including the resignation of then-President Gary Forsee, a major athletic conference shakeup and deep cuts in state support proposed for higher education.

Timothy Wolfe takes office Wednesday as the 23rd president of the four-campus system.

Here is a review of the system's recent history:

Early 2011

The year's big changes start on Jan. 7, 2011, when then-system president Gary Forsee announced he was stepping down from the position to be with his wife, Sherry, to focus on her recovery from cancer.

That day, the UM System Board of Curators announced that the system would immediately begin its search for a new president but that system general counsel Steve Owens would serve as an interim president until a permanent successor was hired.

Later in January, Gov. Jay Nixon moved to appoint two new members to the board to replace outgoing curators Bo Fraser and John Carnahan. The appointments included current curator Donald Cupps and curator-no-more Craig Van Matre.

Then at the board's regularly scheduled meetings Jan. 26-27, it took several actions, including granting permission to hire a search firm to aid the hunt for a new president and discussing how to cover a $72 million budget gap created by cuts in state support.

At that meeting, curators voted to approve a 5.5 percent average tuition increase to the four UM schools, with increases to required and supplemental fees to help bridge that gap. The increases broke a two-year freeze on in-state undergraduate tuition that was part of an agreement to keep funding stable and tuition costs down.

In February, the system announced it would hold seven forums throughout the state to hear out Missouri residents' priorities for qualities they'd like to see in the next UM System president.

Spring and Summer 2011

In March, curators voted to approve a list of qualifications for the next system president and said they would like to see a president who emulates some of Forsee's strengths. Some of the strengths mentioned included his business background, political presence in Jefferson City and communication with university stakeholders.

In May, Van Matre ran into his first appointment roadblock when his confirmation to the Board of Curators was blocked in the state Senate. Nixon withdrew Van Matre's name from the confirmation process — and consequently, the Board of Curators — to preserve the ability to reappoint the Columbia attorney and try to have him confirmed again.

At the beginning of June Nixon did just that, adding Van Matre back to the board as a recess appointment pending Senate approval in the next legislative session.

Also in June, the governor withheld additional funds from public colleges and universities to help fund the state's disaster relief efforts after flooding and the tornado in Joplin.

Although most colleges saw a 7 percent decrease in state support after the announcement, Nixon cut 8 percent to the UM System and Missouri Western State University for raising tuition above what he thought was appropriate.

At the board's meetings in Columbia on June 16-17, curators discussed ways to cope with the governor's additional cuts and voted to close the current retirement plan and create a new hybrid, defined benefits and defined contributions plan.

In August, as students headed back to campus, speculation began about the futures of Texas A&M and Missouri in the Big 12 Conference. But as speculation turned to reality, it was the Board of Curators that would take center stage.

Fall and Winter 2011

In September, Nixon withdrew Van Matre's appointment from the Senate again after the Senate decided not to take up any confirmations during a special session of the Missouri General Assembly. After the session was over, Van Matre was recess-appointed for a second time.

At the beginning of October, curators met at a special meeting in St. Louis to review a final draft of the system's new hybrid retirement plan. But they also met in closed session for four hours before announcing they had granted MU Chancellor Brady Deaton the power to "explore options" relating to MU's athletic conference alignment.

Two weeks later, the board met for three long days in Kansas City, where it voted to approve a hybrid retirement plan, gave Deaton the power to make any conference realignment decisions without further board approval and announced that the board would be narrowing the search for a new president to a list of finalists. That included a 10-hour, closed-door session of the presidential search committee.

Then on Nov. 6, after months of discussion and debate, Deaton and SEC Commissioner Mike Slive celebrated the conclusion of the conference realignment shake-up with MU's official move to the Southeastern Conference.

Throughout November, curators spent hours privately discussing the highly secretive presidential search and candidates without hinting publicly at specifics regarding candidates or when the search would end.

To begin December, the pace of the presidential search surged as the curators held their sixth closed-door meeting in six weeks. Just two days later, the board announced that a list of presidential search finalists had been sent to an advisory committee made up of faculty, staff and students from the system campuses.

That advisory committee met Dec. 6 — just days before the board's final full meeting of the year — and interviewed one candidate. Curators heard the committee's recommendation at their meeting in Kansas City and said they had made a decision. At the meeting, curators also discussed initial proposals for tuition and fee increases for the 2012-13 school year.

On Dec. 13, the announcement finally came that Timothy M. Wolfe, a Rock Bridge High School and MU alum would become the system's next president. Wolfe, 53, spent 20 years as an executive at IBM and most recently served as president of Novell Americas, a software company in Waltham, Mass.

So far in 2012

This January, in his State of the State address, the governor outlined cuts of 15.1 percent to state support for higher education throughout the state to help balance the state's budget.

At its Feb. 2-3 full board meeting, the system responded by proposing tuition and fee increases. But the board was missing two curators after the resignation of Judith Haggard and the final withdrawal of Van Matre, whose confirmation was blocked by the threat of a filibuster.

At the meeting, curators voted to approve increases to information technology fees, special course fees and e-learning fees but did not vote on tuition increases.

Last week, Nixon announced that he wants to add $40 million in one-time state support for higher education to soften his proposed cuts. The money is expected to come to the state as part of a $196 million lawsuit settlement with state attorneys general filed against the nation's five largest mortgage companies for fraudulent foreclosure practices.

What's next?

On Wednesday, this story begins a new chapter as new president Tim Wolfe takes over with the UM System at a crossroads.

There's still uncertainty surrounding the exact amount of higher education funding available for next year's budget, and UM System spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead said there are still no specifics on what the one-time infusion of settlement money could mean for tuition hikes on the UM campuses.

Curators will meet again this month to discuss and vote on any tuition increases. But in the meantime, Wolfe has met with students at UM campuses in Rolla, St. Louis and Kansas. His meet-and-greet at MU is Monday.


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