GEORGE KENNEDY: About the next MU chancellor — an outsider isn't always better

Friday, July 26, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:57 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 26, 2013

Here’s what we want in our next chancellor at MU: A distinguished scholar, an experienced administrator, a savvy politician and a proven fundraiser.

We want someone who recognizes the faculty role in governance, promotes staff training and advancement, and has the imagination to take our university to the next level.

We’d prefer a woman of color.

I think that’s a fair summary of the “requisite competencies, attributes and traits” that were advanced Thursday at the second campus forum intended to advise President Tim Wolfe as he launches the search for Brady Deaton’s successor. (The words in quotation marks are his.)

About 50 of us gathered in Jesse Wrench Auditorium. Most were there to listen. Maybe the most important things we heard came from President Wolfe himself.

He wants, he said, a “dynamic leader” able to champion our values, foster excellence, engage with the full range of stakeholders, support faculty and staff, and rethink the multiple roles of the university.

He sounded both determined to find such a paragon and optimistic that it can be done by the end of the fall semester.

He described the search process in detail while emphasizing that the identities of candidates will be kept secret. It’s a process he has used twice in his 18 months in office.

The same California search firm that located a new vice president will develop a candidate pool. A broad-based search committee, named Thursday, will do the essential work of analyzing candidates and choosing between two and five finalists.

Only then, he said, will he get involved. He’ll interview the finalists and discuss them with the search committee to come up with a ranking.

This will be the first national chancellor search in 20 years, and President Wolfe made clear that he expects the winner to come from outside our campus.

He was so consistently upbeat, in fact, that I had trouble maintaining my usual pessimism. So I did a quick review of recent history.

We’ve had seven chancellors since the University of Missouri System was created in 1963. Three of them were hired from outside. If we were to rate all seven on the basis of whether they left the institution stronger than they found it, I’m not sure the outsiders would come out on or even near the top.

Barbara Uehling was the first stranger to come among us. Of course, she is also the only woman to have held the job so far. Her legacy – and it’s an important one – is that the campus is more beautiful than before her reign.

Otherwise, however, she was a loyal lieutenant in the slash-and-burn budget cuts of the Ashcroft era. She left us poorer and angrier than when she arrived.

Her successor was Haskell Monroe, up from Texas with a folksy charm and an extensive collection of bricks. To his credit, he taught an undergraduate history class every year. To his greater credit, he quit rather than undertake further cuts ordered by the curators. He didn’t leave many fingerprints, or any bricks.

Charles Kiesler, who followed Chancellor Monroe, may have been the least-liked leader we’ve ever had. He didn’t seem to like us much, either. He only lasted three years.

Then came two decades of home-raised chancellors. Both Richard Wallace and Brady came up through the administrative ranks. Neither is a spellbinder as a public speaker, but both have guided us through the perpetual tough times and made the most of diminished resources. Brady’s successful billion-dollar capital campaign promises good things to come.

All this is certainly not an argument to stick with familiar faces. It’s just a reminder that stranger isn’t always better.

I don’t suppose Gerry Brouder would want the job.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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Ellis Smith July 26, 2013 | 6:53 a.m.

Apparently the procedure won't be similar to the proverbial mating of elephants, which...

1- Takes place at a high level.

2- Is accompanied by a considerable amount of heat and noise.

3- Takes a long time to see any results.

Elsewhere in this so-called "university system" the person (their character, abilities vision, etc.) is considered to be far more important than whether that person is local or an "outsider." "Outsider" sounds like a bunch of hillbillies conversing. "You can't let that man marry your daughter, Zeke. He's an OUTSIDER!"

(Report Comment)
Jim Michaelson July 26, 2013 | 1:49 p.m.

"We'd prefer a woman of color". Un-be-freakin-lievable. Can anyone try to explain to me why the candidates gender and skin color should have any impact on this decision whatsoever? I am as offended by this statement as you would be if it were replaced by "we would prefer a white man."

The hypocracy of you elite liberal academians never ceases to amaze me. Can't we simply pick the most qualified candidate, whether he/she is whit, black, blue or green?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 27, 2013 | 6:25 a.m.

Avoid outsiders and outside influences. Keep the blood lines pure and incestual. :) [A bit too long for a bumper sticker.]

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