UM set to name new president

Wednesday, December 19, 2007 | 7:49 p.m. CST; updated 2:44 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Gary Forsee, former CEO of Sprint Nextel, will be named as the next president of the UM system in a press conference Thursday afternoon, according to Associated Press reports.

COLUMBIA — Former Sprint-Nextel CEO Gary Forsee will be named the next president of the University of Missouri System on Thursday, according to reports by The Associated Press and the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

The UM System Board of Curators is expected to introduce the new president Thursday at a 1 p.m. news conference at the Reynolds Alumni Center. Forsee’s appointment comes just a little more than a year after Elson Floyd announced that he would leave UM to lead Washington State University.

Frank Schmidt, the head of the UM Presidential Search Advisory Committee, could not confirm that Forsee is the board’s choice to lead the four-campus UM system. However, he pointed out that Forsee was in the news last month after interviewing for the position and meeting with Gov. Matt Blunt.

“If you look back to November, it was noted in a couple of places that there was one person interviewed by the committee, and the candidate was named as Forsee,” he said.

The decision to choose a candidate from the corporate, rather than the academic world, does not surprise Schmidt. He said that when curators hired Atlanta-based search consultant Jerry Baker, they made it “pretty clear” what kind of leader they wanted.

“Baker has a track record of bringing in people from the outside to run academic situations,” Schmidt said. “I don’t think anybody will be surprised if (the person chosen) is a corporate type.”

Claire Van Ummersen, vice president of the American Council on Education’s Center for Effective Leadership, said about 15 percent of current university and college presidents came from outside the academic sphere. She said that because funding has become such an important issue in higher education, a leader with a corporate background may be more desirable.

“Today, one of the major tasks for a president to do is to raise money, whether it’s coming from the legislature or private funding,” she said. “Corporate people often have the governor’s ear, in a way, where academic people do not, and that could be an advantage.”

Schmidt, who is also chairman of the MU Faculty Council, said faculty members have expressed concerns about bringing in a CEO-type to run the UM system. Schmidt said faculty are apprehensive about what effect a corporate-minded leader will have on academics.

“There is a worry that this person will try to meddle in the academic missions of the university, and we will come to be run by strict accounting-sheet economics,” he said.

The economics of higher education will be among Forsee’s first orders of business. The 2008 state legislature session is just weeks away from beginning, and funding for Missouri colleges and universities will likely be an important issue for lawmakers.

Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said he wants the new system president to address tuition costs and the system’s role in the state’s economy, along with supporting a strong research environment and advocating academic freedom. He acknowledges, however, that these will not be easy tasks.

“Whoever the next president is will have challenges because the state legislature does not support public higher education as much as it should,” he said.

When Forsee’s name surfaced as a candidate in November, some UM faculty cited his lack of government experience as a concern. But Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, says that she does not see that as an obstacle. “I will be there to help him in any way he needs in getting acquainted with the legislative process,” she said.

According to the AP, Forsee graduated from the University of Missouri-Rolla in 1972 and currently serves on the school’s Board of Trustees. He was also the CEO of Sprint-Nextel until board members pressured him to resign due to a decline in customers and company stock prices.

Gordon Lamb has served as interim president of the UM system since early this year.

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