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Staff says Deaton is Mr. Right

Despite no search committee, many faculty members say they approve the decision.
Sunday, October 3, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:55 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

It was a big announcement on short notice. A news release, describing only a “major announcement” at 3 p.m. in Memorial Union, came out at 1:44 p.m. An hour before the meeting came official confirmation of the suspected: Brady Deaton, MU’s interim chancellor, would become the real thing.

On a small stage in the Benton Bingham room, University of Missouri system President Elson Floyd lauded Deaton’s work as provost and interim chancellor. “I had the right candidate for the job, at the right moment, here on the campus,” he said.

Those members of the MU faculty and administration who came for the announcement gave Deaton strong applause during Floyd’s speech and again when Deaton stepped to the lectern.

SEARCH DISCUSSION

As recently as late August, UM spokesman Joe Moore said Floyd intended to make an announcement regarding a search committee for the chancellor position. In April, Floyd said he planned to hold a national search for the position.

The search never happened.

Floyd said Friday he didn’t want to “engage in a selection process” during the summer while most of the faculty and student body were away. He decided forgoing a national search would allow MU to move ahead more quickly. Conducting a national search would have limited the university’s freedom to pursue the “aggressive path we have laid out,” he said.

Floyd has advocated an ambitious plan for the UM system that includes increasing enrollment by 10,000 students and raising $1 billion, both in the next five years.

He said that in selecting Deaton, he consulted a wide range of groups and individuals linked to MU. “These conversations included faculty, administrators, staff, students and alumni, as well as, of course, friends of the university,” Floyd said.

Moore said these conversations had been taking place since former Chancellor Richard Wallace announced his retirement in July 2003. Floyd came away from these conversations with the impression that there was confidence in Deaton’s ability to lead, Moore said.

Not everyone agrees.

“I don’t think a series of private conversations is tantamount to a public, open search process,” said journalism professor Charles Davis, executive director of the Freedom of Information Center, located on the MU campus. “I think it damages the university in the eyes of a general public who see it as aloof, who see it as arrogant.”

Sheldon Steinbach, vice president of the American Council on Education in Washington, said that although appointing a chancellor without a search is unusual, it is not unprecedented.

“If you already have someone that you’re going to go with, why raise the expectations” of a group of applicants, Steinbach said. He considers it more ethical to make the appointment than to “advertise a job that was pretty much wired.”

Although the MU Faculty Council supports Deaton, Chairman Gordon Christensen said he wished a formal selection process had been followed. “But now that the decision has been made, we look forward to working with Dr. Deaton,” Christensen said.

Other members of the faculty saw no need for a national search.

“Why go through a needless search process when you’ve got the right man for the job?” said Richard Oliver, dean of the School of Health Professions.

The UM Board of Curators, which governs the four-campus system, is expected to formally OK Deaton as permanent chancellor — with an annual salary of $255,000 and use of a car — on Monday.

COMMUNICATION

After the announcement, Matt Sokoloff, a Senate Cabinet member of the Missouri Students Association, said MSA was not consulted directly about the decision. He said Floyd told him after the announcement that he regretted not better involving MU student government in the process.

“I trust Dr. Floyd’s ability to pick someone for that position,” Sokoloff said. “I think we all would have. The point is that he didn’t ask.”

Moore later responded, “After speaking several times with students over the past year, Dr. Floyd felt confident that students would support the leadership of Brady Deaton.”

Deaton returned frequently to the importance of communication in his comments Friday. He referred to Floyd’s “aggressive communication process,” and highlighted the need for transparency in his decision-making at the university. He said he will make communication with the Faculty Council and MSA a priority.

Besides keeping lines of communication open within the university, Deaton has talked with legislative candidates, he said, and is prepared to work with the Missouri General Assembly. MU hopes to recover state dollars that it lost in rounds of budget cuts over the past few years.

UM system lobbyist Stephen Knorr indicated Deaton had laid the foundations for a good relationship with the legislature.

“Chancellor Deaton is highly thought of and well-respected with our elected officials,” Knorr said.

He said that instead of alienating the university from elected officials, Floyd’s decision to forgo a national search would improve MU’s position with legislators.

“In a time of fiscal crisis,” Knorr said, most legislators probably appreciate that Floyd “had a man that had all of the qualifications he was looking for.”

DEATON’S DIRECTION

Deaton talked about making MU the “university of choice for the students of Missouri,” and about the important role of a public, research university in the state of Missouri. One of his first moves, Deaton said, will be to begin national searches to fill a number of top-level positions. An interim chancellor cannot make permanent hires for top posts.

“I think national searches in general are very important in higher education,” Deaton said after the announcement. He said he was aware of the contrast with his own appointment but didn’t think the lack of a search would undermine his efforts. Deaton will look to fill the spot of provost — the top academic officer — that has been held by Interim Provost Lori Franz since Deaton moved into the chancellor’s office Sept. 1.

There will also be searches for the dean of education and the vice provost for extension.

Deaton said that he also wants to improve the fine arts at MU and that he would like to build a performing arts center. He has long shown a strong interest in the life sciences; he was chairman of the Life Sciences Task Force. The new Life Sciences Center was dedicated Sept. 17.

A medical research building is another goal, Deaton said.

“We have to be a locus of that intellectual understanding, so as a society we have a better understanding of where we are,” he said.

The current fund-raising campaign is central to Deaton’s position. Franz said it is important to have “a strong leader during this $600 million campaign.”

Steinbach agreed, and said an inside candidate can ease the transition with donors.

“If the prior chancellor had initiated a fund-raising campaign, you’d want someone to be at the helm pretty quickly to keep the momentum going,” he said. MU set a record in the past fiscal year by raising $130.6 million.

REACTIONS

Campus leaders seem excited to work with Deaton.

“(Floyd) could have gone on a national search, but he wouldn’t have found a better man,” said Richard Andrews, dean of MU’s College of Education.

Larry Dessem, dean of the law school, said he was thrilled about Floyd’s announcement because Deaton struck him as the right person for the job.

“Resolving uncertainty at the top is helpful for the campus,” Dessem said. It’s also important in enlisting support in the legislature and attracting donors to the university, he added. “Uncertainty is not appreciated by donors.”

Deaton thanked Bea Smith, dean emerita in the College of Human Environmental Sciences, for helping bring him to MU. Smith said in an e-mail that Deaton’s international background, starting in his experience in the Peace Corps, will be “tremendously helpful as MU moves ahead in the 21st century.”

Reporters Dan Nejfelt and Megan Norris and assistant city editor Cristian Lupsa contributed to this article.


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