COLUMBIA — Alexander Cartwright said Wednesday after being introduced as the new MU chancellor that higher education has a special place in his heart.
"I am forever indebted to the people who took the time to help a young person who wanted desperately to attain a degree, because he realized it was the way, the American way, to prosper," Cartwright said, reflecting on the people who influenced his education.
"I have to admit that I never would’ve dreamed that I’d have the opportunity to lead such a prestigious institution when I was growing up in the Bahamas, when my math education essentially ended in the seventh grade for various circumstances," Cartwright said. "In fact I never would’ve thought that I’d have the opportunity to attend college, much less become a faculty member at an AAU institution."
University of Missouri System President Mun Choi introduced Cartwright as MU's chancellor-designate to a packed house Wednesday afternoon in the Great Room of the Reynolds Alumni Center. Cartwright, who is currently provost and executive vice chancellor in the State University of New York System, will begin his duties at MU on Aug. 1.
SUNY is the largest comprehensive public university system in the country, with 64 campuses, about 1.3 million students, 90,000 employees and an annual budget of $13.3 billion, according to a news release from the UM system.
Choi said that he was pleased with his and the chancellor search committee's choice of Cartwright for the position and that he hopes Cartwright will choose to stay awhile.
"I was looking for a chancellor who would serve in this role for five, 10, 15 years and use this opportunity not as a stepping stone, but to move the university forward with both short-term immediate plans (and) long-term plans to grow the university," Choi said.
After growing up in the Bahamas, Cartwright's first job in the United States was cleaning farm buildings and working second shifts as a factory custodian to afford community college.
Cartwright earned both his bachelor's degree and doctorate in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Iowa. He was a professor at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. In addition to his duties as provost and executive vice chancellor at SUNY, he was acting president of SUNY's research foundation from January 2015 to January 2016. Cartwright is a renowned scholar with an emphasis in optical engineering.
Choi mentioned his and Cartwright's shared personality traits and values, and said their similarities will be key as they make decisions together. He recognized Cartwright's appreciation for education and how his vision of education is reflected in his many accolades.
Cartwright will be paid $485,000, Choi said, and he will earn a $25,000 incentive if he holds the position for at least five years.
Cartwright is accepting the chancellor's job amid a time of immense change at MU. He acknowledged the immediate challenges of budget cuts, diversity efforts and diminishing enrollment and said he will consider a broad range of perspectives as he works to address those issues.
"It’s still early on. I think I’m going to spend a lot of time listening," Cartwright said. "I need to talk to everybody, understand what’s happening at the institution, understand what decisions need to be made, and then we’ll make those top priorities.”
Cartwright said he will work with budget proposals that MU Interim Chancellor and Provost Garnett Stokes has already laid out and move forward from there.
"We want to ensure that we are investing in our strengths," he said. "There's really going to be some tough decisions, but the tough decisions are to ensure that Mizzou is sustainable, and not only sustainable, but vibrant."
Cartwright acknowledged the efforts of UM Chief Diversity Officer Kevin McDonald for moving the institution forward in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion.
"I'm completely committed to inclusive excellence," Cartwright said. "I want to make sure that this institution provides opportunities for everybody to succeed."
Cartwright was co-chair of the SUNY Diversity and Inclusion Task Force and is credited on the SUNY website for initiating a "a sweeping diversity, equity and inclusion policy."
Cartwright said he found the chancellor job appealing because "Mizzou is a special place."
"If you look at this institution, it has all of the components of being an absolutely great institution, an institution that has a tradition unlike many others in this country," Cartwright said. "And I believe not only is it an attractive place, but it can become a premier public research university in this country."
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.