By Emily Younker
In his first formal address to Missouri Southern State University faculty and staff, interim President Alan Marble on Friday repeatedly used the word “believe” — and not by accident.
“We need to focus on what we believe,” he said during his presentation, in which he encouraged faculty and staff members as they prepare for the first day of the fall semester on Monday. “We need to believe in ourselves. We need to believe in our work. We need to believe that our best days are ahead.”
The role of leadership on campus was also a key focus of Marble’s speech. He showed a video clip of a shirtless dancing man who, within three minutes, leads a crowd of initially passive followers around him into an energetic, dancing frenzy.
The demonstration, he said, is representative of how he thinks leadership should work on the campus — beginning with an individual brave enough to stand on his own, but not necessarily with the president.
“Traditional leadership is overglamorized,” he said. “Part of my role is to be that shirtless dancing guy, but also a big part of my role is to be the first follower and find you when you are the shirtless dancing guy and be there immediately and automatically, and that’s what I intend to do.”
Marble called on the faculty to also support one another and work together to move forward.
“I want you to appreciate the work you do and understand that the synergies and cooperation that can happen among you is just remarkable,” he said. “Embrace the fact that sometimes you’ll need to be the leader, and sometimes you’ll be the follower.”
Joy Dworkin, an English professor and president of the faculty senate, said she looks forward to new leadership, opportunities and “energy” on campus.
“I think it’s safe to say we’re feeling grateful for a number of new beginnings,” she said.
Dworkin said she would also work to make sure faculty opinions, particularly those of new faculty members, are heard.
“We want to hear everybody’s voices regarding things we can build in the future,” she said. “I’m eager to hear from faculty, and I’m eager to try to effectively move forward.” Missouri Southern State University welcomed 23 new faculty members to the campus on Friday.
During his presentation, Marble alluded to but did not provide many details on the challenges that MSSU could face this year. Those challenges include potential budget cuts or cuts in state appropriations, a trend in recent years; program prioritization, an internal review of academic and nonacademic programs that could end with the possibility of growing and enhancing some programs while reducing or eliminating others; and student retention and enrollment, which is being analyzed by the higher education consulting firm Noel-Levitz.
“When we approach these issues, we need to be thoughtful and patient and deliberate and open, and that’s what we intend to do,” Marble said.
The search for a permanent president, meanwhile, is expected to swing into full gear once the fall semester gets under way, said Richard Walter, chairman of the Board of Governors. He said a speedy process is “not critical,” and the most important thing is finding the “right person” for MSSU.
Sherry Buchanan, former chairwoman of the board and co-chairwoman of yet to be formed presidential search committee, said discussions of the search steps should begin soon.
“After (fall) classes start, it will be a good idea to have some meetings and start talking about what process do we want, what the search committee composition should be, what are the needs and desires of the campus in terms of looking for our permanent leadership,” she said. “We want everybody at this stage to start thinking about how do we want to go about this and what do we want it to do for us.”
Alan Marble, who retired earlier this year as president of Crowder College at Neosho, had been tabbed for an assistant position created by Bruce Speck, his predecessor at MSSU. Speck, who had served as president of the university since 2008, saw his contract terminated by the Board of Governors in mid-June. His tenure was marked by controversy almost from beginning to end. His presidency even at one point sustained a hefty vote of no confidence by the faculty. Marble was quickly chosen after Speck’s departure to serve in the interim position.