Typically when a high-profile community leader announces his/her departure, there are factions of the population who celebrate the news. This doesn’t seem to be the case with Elson Floyd. By all accounts, Floyd’s leagues of admirers appear to be unified in their collective opinion that he will be hard to replace.
In mid-December, Floyd made the startling announcement that he would be leaving the University of Missouri to become president of Washington State University in Pullman, Wash.
So what traits or qualities should Floyd’s replacement embody? Of course there will be the requisite educational requirements, work history and years of experience, but what specific qualities should curators look for in Floyd’s successor?
Tom Atkins, Columbia businessman and outgoing member of the University of Missouri Board of Curators, said the qualities Floyd embodies should be sought in the next president of the University of Missouri. “What we really need is a clone of Elson Floyd,” Atkins said.
Specifically, Atkins cites that a successful university president should have “a terrific work ethic, a high energy level, a high intellect, extraordinary charisma and a common-sense personality.”
These qualities describe Floyd, according to Atkins, and are essential for the next university president as well.
Mizzou Flagship Council President Richard Mendenhall said he believes that leadership is the most crucial quality necessary to guide the university. “A great president of a great university is a leader, first and foremost, and leaders must lead,” Mendenhall said.
Finding a leader, according to Mendenhall, is far more rare than finding those who can perform administrative duties.
“The world is full of managers and desperately short of leaders, especially great leaders,” Mendenhall said.
Professor John Faaborg has been teaching and conducting research at the University of Missouri-Columbia campus for more than 30 years. In that time, he’s seen his share of system presidents. “The position of university president doesn’t really affect my day-to-day life,” Faaborg said.
He added, however, that Floyd’s charisma probably helped save the university. “I think Floyd’s good and did a nice job of making it clear that the university was hurting,” Faaborg said. A full professor in the biology department and an adjunct faculty member in wildlife, Faaborg said he believes that having a university president who protects the research integrity of the Columbia campus is vital.
“You can’t keep bleeding us to death. All the campuses have a different calling. Columbia’s is the major research campus,” Faaborg said.
Like Faaborg and Mendenhall, Jill Villasana, president of the Boone County chapter of the MU Alumni Association, said she believes that protecting the flagship status of the Columbia campus would need to be the top priority for the next university president.
“A president of the university system needs to view the Columbia campus as the flagship institution and recognize what it brings to the state of Missouri,” Villasana said.
As the curators begin to make their wish lists of traits they hope to see in the candidates for university president, Mendenhall recommends the following:
“A great president of a great university should create a compelling vision for the curators, faculty, staff, General Assembly and citizens of Missouri for the future of the university and its critical importance to the state of Missouri.”