The retirement clock is ticking for MU Chancellor Richard Wallace, but UM system President Elson Floyd has yet to announce his plans for the Columbia campus.
Elson Floyd might be taking Wallace’s place
Wallace steps down in August, with no successor on the horizon. Floyd has said he was considering taking Wallace’s place along with running the four-campus system. But he declined last week to provide new details about the status of the process.
“I am continuing to meet with various constituency groups concerning the possible consolidation,” Floyd said Wednesday. “When there is additional information to report, you will be advised.”
Appointing an interim and conducting a search for a new chancellor is the likeliest scenario if Floyd decides not to go ahead with the move. Experts in university administration say it takes about six months for an effective chancellor search, so it’s too late to start one now.
MU faculty, staff and student representatives interviewed for this story don’t seem worried about Wallace’s shoes being filled, but they don’t feel comfortable being kept in the dark.
“It would help to know because you can’t set priorities until you know where to go,” said Gail Lawrence, chairwoman of MU’s Staff Advisory Council.
Gordon Christensen, chairman of the MU Faculty Council, said he is confident someone on campus could become an interim chancellor for one or two years before a recruitment process begins.
“If the chancellor were to step down and Dr. Floyd is not delegated to perform that duty, then Provost (Brady) Deaton can fill in or they will recruit somebody,” Christensen said.
When it comes to Floyd’s decision, though, Christensen said the faculty would like to see it yesterday rather than tomorrow.
Floyd has explored consolidation — the name by which administrative changes and the streamlining of positions between campus and system are referred — for the last seven months. He met with constituent groups on the four campuses as well as former university presidents and curators to figure out the pros and cons of such a move.
“The president is fairly careful about where and when to pick his battles,” Christensen said.
A decision was expected at the December meeting of the UM Board of Curators, but the Ricky Clemons scandal seemed to interrupt the momentum: Consolidation was an action item on the board’s agenda — meaning the board was scheduled to vote on the issue — but was changed at the last minute to an information item. The only decision Floyd announced at the Kansas City meeting was that the positions of chancellor and president would remain separate, although one person could still hold both jobs.
Jailhouse tapes of phone conversations between Clemons — a former MU basketball player who was serving a sentence for violating the terms of his probation after a domestic assault conviction — and Floyd’s wife, Carmento, were made public in December. Release of the transcripts placed the president in an awkward situation, in part because Carmento Floyd made several remarks on the tape that were publicly scrutinized for racism.
Columbia vs. other campuses
At the curators’ meeting in Columbia last month, consolidation was hardly mentioned. Christensen said he sees two reasons for this: that it might have been too early after the Clemons incident, and that MU might not have been the best venue to announce the decision.
“The reason is that this decision is looked at very jealously by our sister schools (in the system),” Christensen said. “They are very worried about what this decision means to their place.”
One of the concerns voiced on other UM campuses about Floyd becoming MU chancellor is that he would favor the Columbia campus and neglect the others. Brian Laoruangroch, president of the Missouri Student Association, said the argument cuts both ways. As chancellor of the MU campus, Floyd would work extra hard to make sure that Kansas City, Rolla and St. Louis don’t feel like they’re “getting the short end of the stick,” he said.
Laoruangroch said students worry about their grades and should not have to worry about upper-level administration. “We trust you to think about us,” he said, addressing a fictitious administrator. “Make a really good decision, because we have other stuff to worry about.”
Budget cuts time
In the past, Floyd said that consolidation is not necessarily the ideal decision but is the right one in a time of budget cuts. The plan is for consolidation to eliminate administrative redundancies at the campus and system levels. The two entities have so far merged their information technology divisions, the governmental relations offices and the office of outreach and extension. At the heart of the process is achieving efficiency and saving money.
Meeting with MU faculty in December, Floyd said the process could save anywhere from $500,000 to $4.3 million each year. Floyd and other administrators have said many times that consolidation might bring about some layoffs. The “unknown” of the process, as Lawrence called it, is the main reason campus constituent groups would like an answer soon.
“Being in limbo is difficult because you don’t know how this is going to affect jobs,” Lawrence said.
Mel George, a former UM system president who teaches in the MU Honors College, said he thinks some costs can be saved without touching the two top positions. Envisioning a scenario with Floyd as chancellor, George said he doesn’t see how he could physically do both jobs.
“Is Floyd the chancellor going to write a letter to Floyd the president?” George mused.
Provost as the chancellor’s most likely successor
Both Christensen and Laoruangroch said they wouldn’t mind seeing Floyd preside in Jesse Hall. Christensen said that many times administrators avoid making decisions and create committees to do it for them. He said that Floyd, on the other hand, is doing the opposite by trying to eliminate the administrative clog.
“He does not have trouble making decisions,” Christensen said. “He doesn’t need all the information in the world to make a decision.”
Deaton’s is the name most often mentioned in conversations as a likely successor for Wallace in case Floyd says “no” to the chancellor position. Deaton currently handles most campus duties.
Speaking generally, Marlene Ross, higher education expert with the American Council on Education in Washington, said the provost is the chancellor’s most likely successor because of his position as chief academic officer. Provosts are usually the ones appointed as interims, she said. George also thinks this is the likeliest scenario.
Interims sometimes go on to take the job, which was the case for Wallace when he stepped in for Charles Kiesler in 1996. Wallace was hired in 1997 after a local search, a one-man race after which MU took heat from the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors for not expanding the search nationally. The complaint was not that Wallace, who had served as interim for more than a year, was unfit for the job, but rather that there might be someone better out there.
When hiring an upper-level administrator, Ross said, universities have to go by state and professional association guidelines. Jim Matchefts, general counsel with the Missouri Department of Higher Education, said he is not aware of any state laws regulating searches for university administrators. They have authority as far as searches go, he said.
— Missourian reporter Andrea Latta contributed to this report