MU finishes Life Science interviews

The final candidate for director of the new center says it should be open to the public.
Sunday, October 12, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:29 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

The interviews are complete. The final of four candidates for the Life Sciences director position, F. Robert Tabita, spoke at a public forum Friday. He presented his scientific seminar Thursday — a requirement of the two-day interview process.

Tabita is an Ohio Eminent Scholar of industrial and agriculture microbiology as well as a professor in the departments of natural resources and plant biology at Ohio State University. During his time there, he has also served as the director of the Plant Molecular Biology program, Plant Biotechnology Center and the Plant-Microbe Genomics Facility.

Tabita was not specific in his vision plan for the center.

“I thought I knew about what was going on around campus, but I think as I’ve learned more and more, I need to have more information to make evaluations and decisions,” he said.

However, the center should be available to everyone, he said.

“It would be very important that the public understand what the center is trying to accomplish,” he said. “I would be very much in favor of bringing people in, inviting them to the center to see what’s going on, show them the facilities.”

Another focus Tabita would like to see is that of collaboration.

“For academic and research programs, it’s going to be a synergy; it has to be,” he said. “It can’t stand out by itself.”

If selected as director, Tabita, who received his doctorate in microbial biochemistry from Syracuse University, said he is willing to put in the time necessary, “more than 100 percent,” to get the job done — but he said he will not reduce his personal research.

“Time is not a problem,” he said. “I’ll do what it takes, and if I can’t do the job, I’ll get out.”

The most important quality for a director is to be satisfied that MU is doing a good job in its research, Tabita said.

“You have to have some satisfaction in what you’re doing or else it’s not worth it,” he said. “The self-satisfaction I get from seeing my students and post-docs make discoveries is basically the reward that really drives you. I enjoy working with students more than post-docs. If a student doesn’t finish, I figure it means I’ve not done my job.”

The $60 million center will hold its grand opening and dedication sometime in September of next year, Mike Chippendale, interim director of Life Sciences, said. It is expected to house as many as 44 research labs. The field of life sciences focuses primarily on the interaction of biological sciences with other disciplines such as agriculture and engineering.

Though it is not known which departments will be located in the new center, Tabita liked the idea of housing the undergraduate research office there.

“I’m a real advocate of undergraduate research, and this is something I would favor and support and do everything I could to make sure that undergraduates have the opportunity to work in the labs in the Life Sciences Center,” he said.

Now that the four director candidates have completed the interview process, the final step for MU is to make its decision. The selection committee will meet in about two weeks to make recommendations for a final candidate. Provost Brady Deaton will make the final decision.

“I’m hoping we’ll have a candidate we’ll want to invite back for a second visit by the end of the month,” said Jim Coleman, vice provost for research.

After the second visit is completed, Coleman would like to see that person accept the position by the end of the calendar year.

Before making a decision, the selection committee is interested in faculty, student and community feedback. Feedback forms can be found at

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