Brian Foster, MU provost, will retire at end of December

Wednesday, September 18, 2013 | 5:41 p.m. CDT; updated 3:35 p.m. CDT, Friday, October 24, 2014
MU Provost Brian Foster speaks to an Arts and Science graduating class on Dec. 17, 2011. Foster announced Wednesday morning that he would retire from MU at the end of December. He has been provost since 2005.

*CORRECTION: Berkeley was misspelled in an earlier version of this article.

COLUMBIA — After eight years at MU, Provost Brian Foster plans to retire at the end of December, less than two months after Chancellor Brady Deaton retires on Nov. 15.

Simultaneous vacancies in MU's top two spots aren't as big a deal as people might think, Foster said, because of the university's employee infrastructure. Seven vice provosts and a deputy provost work under Foster.

"This is a very big, robust, high-quality organization that's well-positioned in higher ed," Foster said. "It seems to me, there's a huge amount of momentum that a big organization like this has, and nobody’s going to come in and make big, fundamental changes. I just don’t see that happening."

As provost, Foster worked from his Jesse Hall office to heighten the university's statewide presence and drive its economic development.

"It's the big picture, seeing how the pieces fit together and trying to align them," he said.

Foster said in his time at MU, the university strengthened its relationship with community colleges. He also created a new position, vice provost for economic development, to maximize the university’s economic presence.

"The university is a main driver of economic development in so many different ways," Foster said. "I appointed a vice provost for economic development ... who’s really developed a very impressive statewide presence and statewide agenda."

Deaton praised Foster's  work and achievements in an email he sent to faculty and staff Tuesday.

Foster's leadership "significantly advanced the worldwide academic reputation of the University of Missouri," according to the email. "MU's record growth in enrollment, research and commercialization has been on his watch, and I commend him."

When Foster retires in a few months, Deputy Provost Ken Dean will serve as interim provost until a successor is named, Foster said.

"He (Dean) has been deputy provost for a year or so longer than I’ve been here," Foster said. "He's very much engaged with almost anything of importance that happens in academic affairs."

Dean's core job is to manage academic human resource issues, including hiring, promotion and tenure, Foster said. "He's involved in pretty much everything at some level, so he brings an incredible amount of background to provide continuity."

Foster said he assumes there won’t be a search for the provost's position until the new chancellor is on board. "That means not just appointed, but actually physically in place, that's my understanding," he said.

Dean won't be in the candidate pool for the permanent position, according to an email from Deaton.

Foster's age, 74, and family situation contributed to his decision to retire, he said.

"My wife has some health issues, and I have to spend more time with her," he said.

Facilities infrastructure, faculty-to-student ratios and faculty salary remain some of the issues Foster's successor will face.

"We have some challenging facilities issues," he said. "Providing adequate IT infrastructure. There's a bunch of infrastructure issues that range widely."

"The other thing is that over the last 10 years, we haven't kept our faculty-student ratios , it would be good if we could hire some additional faculty," he said.

"Also, we haven't kept pace with salaries," he said. "This is well-known, and we need to find ways to make our salaries more competitive."

Foster's work as a provost for 14 years, including about six years at the University of New Mexico, makes him an anomaly among his peers, most of whom last only four or five years, he said.

"I’m one of the longer serving ones around in the provost role," he said.

Foster said the Mizzou Advantage, an interdisciplinary initiative that focuses on four of Mizzou's key strengths — food, media, health and energy —  was in the top three of his greatest accomplishments.

*"We compete with the very best — the UCLAs, Wisconsins, Berkeleys and Michigans for faculty, students and grants," Foster said. "We have to choose the areas where we’re going to be able to take on the very best — the Berkeleys and Michigans and Wisconsins — and win, but the only way we're going to do that is if we have some focus on the areas where we have particular strength. That was the underlying idea for Mizzou Advantage."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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