Michael Williams, the University of Missouri System’s newest curator, is just getting acquainted with his new position, but he already has many goals and plans.
Appointed by Gov. Mike Parson in August, Williams was confirmed by the Missouri Senate in September to represent the Kansas City-based 5th Congressional District on the Board of Curators for the next six years. There is currently one vacancy on the nine-member board, which just elected Julia Brncic as its 2020 chair.
A double MU alumnus (he graduated with his bachelor’s degree in 1995 and his Juris Doctor in 1998), Williams has returned to MU twice as an adjunct professor for the School of Law.
“I loved Mizzou. I spent eight years here, and it’s the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere,” he said. “My undergrad was fantastic. I had my fraternity, my other friends and my professors were people I’ve known since I went to Missouri Scholars Academy. There was always a community for me here at Mizzou, and I truly enjoyed it. Hopefully, we’re going to make sure that people are enjoying it for decades.”
So far, Williams has been getting familiar with the four-campus system. He still plans on making a visit to Missouri S&T for his orientation.
“I started by doing my orientation at the system, learning all my responsibilities,” Williams said. “And then we go to each campus and spend a day getting orientated by that campus. I learn what the student population is, how it recruits its students, the graduation rates and how the curators can help the university.”
As an alumnus, Williams understands the importance of keeping open communication goals with students, especially when it comes to diversity issues.
“One of the most important things is meeting the students to find out what the real issues are,” he said. “My goal, and what I think our focus is, (is) if there’s a problem, students have to be comfortable reporting it. The only way that we can make sure that students feel safe and want to be here is to make sure they have an outlet. So, if there is a problem, let’s nip it in the bud. Whether it’s something with a professor, other students or something happens in the community, we want to know, and we want to address it.”
Williams currently lives and works in Kansas City. A founding partner of law firm Williams Dirks Dameron LLC, he specializes in labor law. His training influences the way he assesses issues.
“There’s an old phrase that everybody hates, and it’s, ‘think like a lawyer,’” Williams said. “I get to know what the factual issues are. My first question always has to be, ‘What are we trying to do? What is our end goal?’ Then I gather the facts so that I can make a competent decision about the process I’m going to do to get that end goal.”
After being at MU for many years and participating in the community, Williams said he wants to understand students’ wants, faculty needs, how the administration is meeting those needs and what he can do to help them move forward.
“I’ve been involved in different committees for the university, and I’m always around town,” he said. “So for me, it’s people understanding that I want to do the best I can for the system. My goal is to make sure that we’re in a better place when I leave than when I started this six-year term.”