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MU chancellor says meeting people is his top priority

Saturday, February 15, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:27 a.m. CST, Saturday, February 15, 2014
MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin attends a news conference Friday in Jesse Hall to respond to questions from the media. Before coming to Missouri, Loftin was the president of Texas A&M University.

COLUMBIA — MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said his main priority right now is meeting as many people at the university as possible — by attending meetings and events, through social media and by walking around campus.

In his first official meeting with news media since becoming chancellor Feb. 1, Loftin sat down with reporters in a Jesse Hall conference room Friday afternoon. Other than a friendly greeting, he offered no preamble before taking questions for a little more than an hour.

FOR MEMBERS

CHANCELLOR OF SOCIAL MEDIA: Compared with the online presence of other SEC presidents and chancellors, R. Bowen Loftin's stands out. The new chancellor responds to nearly all tweets directed at him, interacting personally with students by favoriting and replying to their online posts. (This article is available to Missourian digital members.)


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On his top priorities 

Loftin said he believes forming relationships is the key to success as chancellor.

One of the main ways he does this is through his active presence on Twitter, he said. Loftin said he follows several hundred students from various majors and class levels to gain a better understanding of the way students view MU.

"It's really important to me to see campus through students' perspectives," Loftin said.

Loftin also uses Twitter to quickly become aware of problems on campus. If a student tweets about an icy sidewalk, Loftin can pass that information along to the proper personnel in order to get the problem taken care of, he said.

In addition to his presence on Twitter, Loftin said he tries to attend plenty of campus events, such as basketball games. He also enjoys simply walking around campus to chat with students, he said.

"I want to get out of the office and be where people are," Loftin said.

He also is taking time to form relationships with MU faculty and staff, he said. He plans to attend the biweekly MU Faculty Council meetings, where he wants to do more listening than anything else.

He plans to get to know other faculty members in the same way he gets to know students — by getting out of the office and finding them.

"Yesterday I went over and visited with folks in the ag (agriculture) area, just to meet some people over there who are faculty leaders," Loftin said. "I'll be doing that around campus on a routine basis as well. You go where faculty are, you listen to faculty, and you try to learn from them."

Loftin said filling key personnel vacancies is another priority. He hopes to hire a new provost first, possibly by September, who will then be able to assist in the decision-making for other positions, such as the vice chancellor for research and the School of Journalism dean.

Loftin said he won't wait until the new provost is selected to begin the searches for these other positions, however.

On fundraising

One of Loftin's main jobs as chancellor is fundraising for MU, he said, which he is comfortable doing.

"If you believe in your institution, it's not hard," he said.

Loftin said he believes that building relationships is key to effective fundraising. By building a mutual trust with donors, donors become confident that their contributions will be used well, he said.

Loftin said that from January 2012 to January 2014, he assisted in raising more than $1 billion for Texas A&M University, where he was president. He hopes to use his successful fundraising experience at MU.

"I believe in Mizzou," Loftin said. "I'm very comfortable sharing my passion with anyone who will listen."

Loftin said he agrees with the UM System Board of Curators that the renovation of Lafferre Hall is the highest facilities priority at MU.

MU has reached its fundraising goal to finance the renovation, Loftin said, and is waiting to see if it will receive matching funds from the state.

On Michael Sam

Loftin said he thinks the response to former MU football star Michael Sam's announcement that he is gay says a lot about the MU community.

"I think it's very clear to say that this is a supportive community," Loftin said. "I think the story here is that there is no story. I think that speaks highly of Mizzou."

Westboro Baptist Church, known for its virulent opposition to homosexuality, wrote on its website that members plan to protest outside Mizzou Arena on Saturday before Missouri's game against Tennessee.

In response, two MU students created a Facebook event called "One Wall, One Mizzou" to gather students to form a human chain in front of the protesters Saturday. As of 6 p.m. Friday, more than 4,700 people responded that they were attending.

According to the event page, the creators modeled the idea from a similar initiative at Texas A&M when Westboro members said they would protest a student veteran's funeral.

Loftin said that 2,000 students showed up to form a "maroon wall," a reference to the school colors, but no Westboro protesters came.

"It speaks well for our student body to show solidarity," Loftin said.

On the Menu Courey investigation

Although the Sasha Menu Courey investigation began before he became chancellor, Loftin said he has talked almost daily about the matter. Making sure students know how to report incidents is important, he said.

"We have to develop mechanisms to continually remind people, 'This is what you do,'" Loftin said.

Loftin had no immediate comment on a St. Louis law firm being hired by the Board of Curators to investigate MU's handling of the Courey situation. He said he heard of the selection immediately before arriving at the news media gathering. 

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.


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