Loftin: 'Missouri fits all the pieces'

Thursday, December 5, 2013 | 3:11 p.m. CST; updated 9:32 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 5, 2013
R. Bowen Loftin was introduced as MU's next chancellor on Thursday at an event in the Reynolds Alumni Center. Loftin was formerly the head of Texas A&M University.

COLUMBIA — MU's 22nd leader, R. Bowen Loftin, said he still cares deeply about teaching but would be able to affect thousands rather than a few students by continuing administrative work.

As the new chancellor, Loftin has a lot in common with MU's outgoing one, Brady Deaton. Loftin met the campus community for the first time in his new role Thursday morning.

"I could be a poster child for a land grant," he said. Similar to Deaton, he grew up in what he called a "poor town" — Navasota, Texas — to parents who lacked much formal education. His father finished the sixth grade; his mother finished high school.

"Texas A&M was the land grant that reached out to me," Loftin said. "I truly believe the land-grant mission."

Land-grant universities exist to make higher education more accessible to everyday Americans. They evolved in the late 1800s as an alternative to the abstract, liberal arts focus that many universities then provided.

Additionally, research at land-grant universities should "inform the decision making of citizens and leaders at the community and state levels," according to a report Deaton wrote in June 2012.

'Missouri fits all the pieces'

During his introduction speech, Loftin said honesty defines him and is essential to a successful career.

"Who I am, where I came from matches exactly why this university exists," Loftin said. "It gives me great comfort that I match you and you match me."

In addition to MU's four principles of respect, responsibility, diversity and excellence, Loftin said one of the virtues that governs his life is integrity.

"Integrity is my lot in life," he said. "I will always hold myself to the highest standards of integrity. It's my core value."

He said that a reputation, once tainted, can never be restored.

He leaves Texas A&M with a transition package of double his annual $425,000 salary, according to an agreement signed by Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp and dated Aug. 20, 2013.

The Missourian is attempting to find out if Loftin's transition package has changed since his decision to leave Texas A&M.

Texas A&M's 11-member system is overseen by a chancellor. The UM System is overseen by a president

"There aren't many schools I would have even thought about associating with after Texas A&M, but Missouri fits all the pieces," Loftin said.

He said July 16 that he stepped down as president to spend more time with students in the classroom, according to an interview with the Bryan-College Station Eagle.

He also said that he anticipates spending at least the next five years as MU’s chancellor but that he eventually wants to return to teaching.

"I wouldn't even have dreamed of coming here unless I was going to commit for many years," Loftin, 64, said. "Five years and beyond is what I would think about in terms of tenure as a chancellor. Hopefully more than five."

He will not be contractually employed, according to a UM System news release. Loftin will work "at-will ... with no guaranteed length of employment, or buyout provisions," the release said.

Deaton also served "at-will," system spokesman John Fougere said.

Loftin said that money wasn't the reason he left Texas A&M, where he has worked as president since 2010, and that, to many faculty, salary isn't the biggest factor in determining employment.

Loftin will make $450,000 annually when he starts Feb. 1. MU is also paying $135,000 for moving expenses and loss of deferred compensation and up to $45,000 in relocation costs.

Loftin said MU needs new faculty and money isn't the only way to get them here.

"Faculty doesn't necessarily come for money," he said. "They want a place where they can actually bloom. A fit for a faculty member is critical for them. I've been there."

In addition to recruiting new faculty, Loftin wants to ensure MU's status in the Association of American Universities and build on the goals laid out in the Mizzou Advantage plan.

Administrators implemented the plan in 2010 to focus on MU’s key strengths — food, media, health and energy.

Loftin said he acknowledged that universities can't be good at everything.

"No university can be everything," Loftin said. "You've got to identify those things where you want to be special."

Reactions to Loftin

Before announcing Loftin, Wolfe said the 18-member search committee honored the input that 600 people provided at two town-hall-style meetings over the summer.

Wolfe said many of Loftin’s experiences and skills matched with the qualities people said they wanted in the next chancellor. These included experience at an AAU institution, passion for the school's land-grant status, communication and relational skills, ability to generate new revenue streams, collegiality and shared governance and promoting diversity and inclusion among the campus community.

Loftin noted that two former AAU members recently lost standing in the group — the University of Nebraska was voted out, and Syracuse University withdrew — and that it was important to maintain MU's standing in the organization.

"He is one of the most respected leaders in higher education today and someone who deeply understands and appreciates the challenge of leading a public, land-grant, AAU institution," Wolfe said.

Loftin adores students and is famous for his command of social media, Wolfe said.

According to the search committee, one of the chancellor's key roles is representing the university's interests in interactions with state legislators.

State Rep. John Wright, D-Rocheport, said college affordability for Missouri residents is one of his priorities in working with Loftin.

Wright said he wants to discuss tuition levels and scholarship programs with Loftin to ensure that an MU education is as accessible as possible for in-state students.

Wright also hopes to increase the scale of the Missouri College Advisory Corps, a program that sends MU graduates to 26 Missouri high schools to encourage college attendance.

In light of Missouri football's recent success, Wright said he's glad Loftin made the switch from Texas A&M to MU.

"We're happy to show him he's riding the right horse now," he said.

Wolfe: 'the right fit' 

Wolfe picked Loftin from a pool of three candidates primarily because of his land-grant experience, personality and cultural experiences.

"Bowen was the right choice for this position because of his understanding of the land grant mission," Wolfe said. "He also has the personality and fit from a cultural standpoint that is just perfect for the state of Missouri. He absolutely is the right fit from a personality and leadership standpoint."

The search firm the UM System hired to facilitate the search, Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates, approached Loftin two months ago, he said.

Wolfe said Texas colleges and universities have endured state funding cuts, much like Missouri has in past years. In the face of these cuts, Wolfe said Loftin secured more than $740 million in donations over a fiscal year for Texas A&M — a record for the school.

Loftin also moved Texas A&M to the Southeastern Conference.

Missourian reporters Celia Ampel, Emily Donaldson, Molly Duffy and T.J. Thomson contributed to this report.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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