UM group interviews potential president

Monday, November 19, 2007 | 10:13 p.m. CST; updated 8:26 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

KANSAS CITY — The search for the next University of Missouri System president is down to a single finalist.

Several members of a 19-member advisory committee said the group planned to interview just one candidate. The committee met Monday afternoon in a closed meeting at Kansas City Southern, the employer of curator Warren Erdman.

“We met with one candidate,” said Frank Schmidt, an MU professor who heads the committee, after the meeting. The panel consists of a group of professors, students, alumni, retirees and nonfaculty employees from the UM System’s Kansas City, St. Louis, Columbia and Rolla campuses.

“We had a wide range and cordial exchange of questions between the committee and candidate,” Schmidt said.

Two members of the advisory committee reached by the Missourian by phone Monday said they were encouraged by their discussion with the unnamed finalist, saying the candidate could provide “excellent leadership” of the UM System.

One committee member, Springfield attorney Jay Dade, said the candidate appeared to have a “high level” of interest in the position.

Committee members will pass their opinions to UM curators, who have the final say. Curators are scheduled to meet in Kansas City next week.

The new president would replace Elson Floyd, who left Missouri in April for Washington State University’s top job. Interim President Gordon Lamb will continue to lead the four-campus system until a new president is hired.

A source familiar with the search process told The Associated Press that the curators recently interviewed Gary Forsee, a Kansas City-area resident and the recently ousted chief executive officer of Sprint Nextel Corp. The source asked not to be identified because of the confidential nature of the search.

Forsee could not be reached for comment Monday. A University of Missouri-Rolla graduate, Forsee resigned under pressure from Sprint’s board in October.

The nine curators previously hoped to hire New Jersey businessman Terry Sutter, who rejected the offer in June to become chief operating officer of a Florida steel manufacturer. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, a Columbia Republican, was also a finalist during the initial search.

Curators subsequently changed the search process to require at least two interviews with finalists before the next offer.

It’s not clear if the candidate interviewed Monday by the advisory group — which last met in May, soon before Sutter was offered the job — has already met twice with curators. But the board has convened twice in the past month to discuss the search after a prolonged period of inactivity.

University records show that the board interviewed four candidates in St. Louis in early August.

At a board meeting in October, Lamb said he expected a replacement to arrive in Columbia by January.

Curator Warren Erdman said the board’s priority is finding the right person, not rushing the process.

“My goal isn’t to bring this to a close,” he said. “My goal is to find the best person.”

Curator Doug Russell appeared outside the Kansas City Southern boardroom near the end of the group’s three-hour meeting but said he was not involved in the interview Monday.

According to a June 12 memo from board Chairman Don Walsworth outlining the revised search process, curators would offer the job to the group’s second choice among finalists if it is again faced with a rejection by the top candidate.

That was not the case the first time around, when neither Hulshof nor a third finalist who was never publicly identified was offered the job.

Both he and Sutter are alumni of the Columbia campus, and Forsee serves on the board of trustees for the Rolla campus. While such ties are not a requirement for the job, curators have said that they prefer a leader with an existing connection to the state and its university system.

Missourian reporters Maggie Creamer and Laura Latzko and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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