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From the Round Table: MU better off with business executive as president

From the Round Table: MU better off with business executive as president

Al Germond

Landing a business executive to preside over the state’s only Land Grant university may be controversial today, especially in the academic community, but I believe great things are in store for us, as we look ahead to the future, once Gary Forsee is on board. 
The decision by the Board of Curators to select the former Sprint-Nextel executive to be the next president of the university compels me to ask: Just what is the University of Missouri? 
Some institutions call themselves corporations. They are governed by boards of trustees performing a function I believe is interchangeable with that of MU’s Board of Curators. The governor, acting in the name of the citizens of the state of Missouri—the shareholders of the university—appoints the curators, who act much as the board of directors would for a for-profit corporation.
Since its founding in 1839, the corporation that is the University of Missouri has broadened its base of operations to include not only the classic academic function performed by its schools and colleges but also the teaching hospital and clinics and more business-related ventures. Some of the more obvious are Discovery Ridge, the research reactor, the business incubator, the Missourian, KOMU-TV, two radio stations, a golf course, the university’s own utilities, a police department, the Extension division and the major marquee player called intercollegiate athletics. 
This past season’s hugely successful football program and the attendant national publicity already are getting major credit for the upturn of interest in MU and a reported 20 percent increase in the number of applications for admission to schools and colleges here in Columbia. 
I wonder why so little attention has been paid to this, given all the recent talk about economic malaise and the softening of such-and-such sector of the local economy. Whether it’s 1,000 or 2,000 additional students attending MU next year, any burst in student enrollment will be great news on all counts.
With a well-established infrastructure in place and a staff of more than 10,000 people already on hand, the economic benefit derived from every new student admitted to MU represents a bonus we wouldn’t have expected to see as recently as last summer. While every new student admitted represents an obvious fillip of support to the university, the collateral boost within various segments of the regional economy from every new student resident will be no less significant. 
Unless you are presently footing the bills for The Great College Experience, most of us are very naïve about what it costs to go to college these days. At MU, tuition, room, board and all the incidentals typically thrust the annual schoolbill into the $15,000 to $35,000-per-year range depending on state of residence. Each additional student provides cash flows that will accrue to the State of Missouri and the myriad of private recipients, including the owners of units in the admittedly overbuilt local housing market.
Now to talk about incoming University of Missouri president Gary Forsee.  For my assessment, I will continue to describe the University of Missouri as a corporation whose mission is to provide a plethora of functions and services for its shareholders—the citizens of Missouri—administered by the new president and the Board of Curators. 
To require that the corporation that is the University of Missouri be administered by a member of the academic community is something we need to get over. The University of Missouri Corporation is a business—a non-commercial and not-for-profit business, by definition, but a multi-faceted business enterprise nonetheless. 
I’m for having a recognized business leader running the University of Missouri Corporation.  Leave the academic administrators in charge of the university’s schools and colleges, but let’s encourage this step out of the box of conformity and welcome a business leader to run the business of the University of Missouri, a corporation of many functions owned and operated by and for the citizens of Missouri.

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