R. Bowen Loftin hopes to elevate MU as new chancellor

Thursday, December 5, 2013 | 9:25 p.m. CST; updated 2:36 p.m. CST, Friday, December 6, 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 — As MU's new chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin has a lot in common with the outgoing one, Brady Deaton.

"I could be a poster child for a land-grant," he said.

Like Deaton, Loftin 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 completed high school.

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

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

Loftin, 64, who officially becomes chancellor on Feb. 1, said he plans to focus on keeping MU affordable, boosting its rankings within the Association of American Universities and building on the Mizzou Advantage plan.

University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe introduced Loftin to the MU community on Thursday.

"He is frankly one of the most beloved presidents Texas A&M has ever had," Wolfe said. "He's famous for his bow ties and command of social media."

During his remarks, 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," he said. "It gives me great comfort that I match you and you match me."

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

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

Leaving Texas A&M

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

Loftin's transition package will not change as a result of his decision to leave Texas A&M.

"The buyout terms of his agreement remain unchanged with his taking the University of Missouri chancellorship," said Shane Hinckley, Texas A&M's assistant vice president of business development.

Texas A&M's 11-member system is overseen by a chancellor, much the way the four-member UM System is overseen by a president. Loftin's role as Texas A&M's president had comparable duties to his new role as MU chancellor.

Loftin anticipates spending at least the next five years as MU’s chancellor, but 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," he said. "Five years and beyond is what I would think about in terms of tenure as a chancellor. Hopefully more than five."

Loftin will not be contractually employed, according to a UM System news release. He 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 will make $450,000 annually when he starts in February. MU is also paying $135,000 for moving expenses and loss of deferred compensation and up to $45,000 in relocation costs.

Loftin and his wife, Karin, plan to live in the residence on Francis Quadrangle.

"I think it will be great living on the campus right near the Quad," Karin Loftin said Thursday morning.

Moving up

Loftin said Thursday that he understands collegiality and a sense of belonging are important to faculty and staff.

"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."

Faculty Council Chairman Craig Roberts said Loftin's experience as a professor earns him credibility with the MU faculty.

"This chancellor has instant respect in that way, in that he's already done those (faculty) things himself," he said.

Roberts said he would like to see Loftin address budget issues like faculty salary and building maintenance. He'd also like to see a focus on MU's Association of American Universities ranking.

Texas A&M pays full professors an average of $122,200 per year, while the average MU salary for full professors is $117,200, according the the 2013 American Association of University Professors survey. Associate and assistant professors are also paid less at MU.

MU is one step from the bottom in compensation for full professors, compared with other public schools in the AAU.

Loftin said he plans to address AAU rankings, as well as 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 does acknowledge that universities can't be good at everything.

"You've got to identify those things where you want to be special," he said.

'The right choice'

Wolfe said he selected Loftin from a pool of three finalists 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 at the news conference after Thursday's announcement.

"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."

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

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 has worked as a lecturer, assistant professor, professor and researcher in physics, engineering and computer science. As president, he saw Texas A&M's enrollment surpass 50,000 students and shifted the school to the Southeastern Conference.

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

Wolfe said many of Loftin’s experiences and skills matched the qualities people said they wanted in the next chancellor — 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.

"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.

His legislative role

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.

Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, a member of the House Higher Education Committee, briefly met Loftin on Thursday. Rowden said his most immediate goal in working with Loftin is to help persuade the legislature to approve matching funds for new buildings on each of the UM System campuses.

Rowden said he hopes Loftin will communicate MU's economic importance to the rest of Missouri.

"It's important for all of us to make sure that folks know that we're not the metaphorical leader of the state," he said. "There's a reason the institution has earned that title."

Even though the six members of the Boone County delegation are split evenly across party lines, Rowden said they all agree that a strong working relationship with Loftin is a priority.

"When it comes to the university, everybody's all-in," he said.

Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Education. He said he plans to work closely with Loftin.

"I think for higher education overall, we are looking at adopting performance funding in our state," he said. "Those universities that are successful in doing that are the ones we need to look at. We will be taking a look at things like retention, low dropout rates, which will all be very beneficial for the University of Missouri."

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said he has heard good things about Loftin and is looking forward to working with him before his term runs out in 2014. Kelly has announced he will not seek re-election.

"I am sure that he will be a part of the university’s ongoing efforts," Kelly said. "He understands the mission of a research institution. He is a scientist and understands peer research very well."

Loftin said he stepped down as president to spend more time with students in the classroom, according to a July 16 article in the Bryan-College Station Eagle. He said he did not step down with a move to MU in mind.

"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.

Reporters Celia Ampel and Emily Donaldson contributed to this story.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

Graphic by Graciela Aguilarleon

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