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Loftin joins tiger territory

Loftin joins tiger territory

Chancellor R. Bowen LoftinThe early reports about Dr. Richard Bowen Loftin, the incoming 22nd chancellor of the University of Missouri, have been good. Sixty-four-year-old Loftin comes to us from Texas A&M University. With 50,000 students and branch campuses, A&M has an overwhelming presence in Brazos County and the twin cities of Bryan-College Station, with a metro area population of 231,623 situated about 80 miles northwest of Houston. Sporting sartorially distinctive cravats, Loftin has plunged into his new administrative role responding to an array of challenges with the first responder, on-the-scene zeal of a fireman. He was immensely popular especially with students across Aggieland, and press accounts cite tensions during his tenure as A&M president with the board of regents and Gov. Rick Perry, including a vetoed tuition increase while state support continued to decline.

We scratch and claw our way wanting to know more about Texas A&M. A few glimpses come via the Internet and from Irwin A. Tang’s The Texas Aggie Bonfire, which describes the fiery extravaganza tied to the Aggie-Longhorn (University of Texas) rivalry that went terribly wrong on Nov. 18, 1999, when 12 students died. That’s really the only bad news. The good news is that like MU, TAMU as it is known locally participates in the prestigious 59-member Association of American Universities, joined the SEC the same time MU did more than a year ago, funds an ambitious $700 million research program and two business incentive programs: Start Up Aggieland and the Aggie Angel Network. A university with somewhat rough origins is laced with traditions, including its distinctive Corps of Cadets. As an academic business, our curiosity is especially directed at relationships between TAMU and the governments of Brazos County and the cities of Bryan and College Station and how they work together smoothly and cooperatively.


The MU connection

Loftin has moved to a region that’s been marked over the years by varying levels of enthusiasm and support for MU. I’ve often wondered about the depth and sincerity of relationships between university officials and their governing counterparts in city and county government. To an outsider, these relationships often appear to be little more than acknowledging one another’s presence sprinkled with cat fights over picayune issues and scant evidence that there’s much in the way of outreach on either side of Elm Street. It seems a reminder is in order for those who govern to restate that Columbia is a company town tied closely to MU, sprung to its present significance as a seat of learning and regional center because the seeds of this land grant university were fortuitously planted here 175 years ago.

University officials unabashedly promote increasing Columbia’s campus enrollment to 40,000 students. This, in turn, has spurred investments to house the anticipated addition of thousands of new students over the 35,000 already studying here. Some of us remain skeptical and recall enrollment declines 30 years ago and academic cutbacks when Peter Magrath was president and Barbara Uehling was campus chancellor. We remember proposed curriculum enhancements such as “Food for the 21st Century” and the cutbacks and program consolidations when 1985 enrollment was slightly less than 22,000. Yet, there are infrastructure issues, and it is embarrassing how both sides have recently stumbled over what will be a win-win for all of us.
An enthusiastic approach
There’s skepticism about the amplitude of rah-rah for Old Mizzou that emanates these days from the precincts of city and county government. Readings on the applause meter from the north-of-Elm-Street governing crowd have been rather weak it seems. The needle pressed more positively during a recent interview in which Loftin distinguished himself with enthusiastic, straightforward talk about the challenges he faces as chancellor. He affirmed his desire to reach out and immerse himself in working with local elected officials to get things done. Will they share his ebullient enthusiasm? We certainly hope so.

Maybe we can learn from Loftin’s experience working on transit issues that could be worth emulating here. Loftin should continue greeting people with “howdy” and challenging teams to “gig ’em” when competition gets tough. His attitude is infectious, and we will have much to gain from it. This bronco rider is now in our corral — and the ride promises to be very interesting.

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