The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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June 17, 2013

Board chairwoman: Bruce Speck out as MSSU president

Bruce Speck is “no longer president” of Missouri Southern State University, the Board of Governors disclosed Monday.

The announcement was made late Monday afternoon following a unanimous vote taken during a closed board meeting Friday. It was the culmination of at least three months’ worth of board meetings held — mostly behind closed doors — in conjunction with the president’s annual evaluation, which normally has been completed each June.

Sherry Buchanan, board chairwoman, said in a statement that Speck’s contract was terminated “by mutual agreement” of the parties.

“We thank him for the positive initiatives he implemented during his tenure,” she said, citing actions such as the creation of a strategic plan and a master plan for buildings.

Buchanan did not return several telephone messages seeking additional comment. Cassie Mathes, university spokeswoman, said Buchanan wanted her only statement on the situation to be what was given in Monday’s news release from the university.

Mathes directed all further questions to the board’s attorney, Jon Dermott. When contacted by the Globe on Monday night, he declined to discuss the terms of the agreement or the reasons for the termination of Speck’s contract, saying that it was a personnel matter.

Speck could not be reached for comment, Mathes said.

No reason for the termination was given in Buchanan’s statement. Buchanan has said Speck’s evaluation was based on information taken from items such as the annual survey of the faculty; written surveys from and in-person interviews with each board member, and those who report directly to Speck; and an assessment of Speck’s performance goals and objectives that the board has set for him.

The terms of Speck’s severance were also unclear. He had two years left on his contract, which had been unanimously renewed by the board last year.

According to that contract, Speck would be entitled to six months’ additional salary and health insurance benefits if the board initiated the termination of his contract under the “mutual consent” clause. If the president himself initiated the termination, he would not be paid any salary or benefits beyond the date of his termination.

Before the announcement, Speck had not been at his office for more than two weeks. Buchanan has previously declined to comment on his absence and whether it was related to last week’s vote.

Pat Lipira, vice president for academic affairs, said she was not necessarily surprised by the announcement, given Speck’s absence over the past few weeks and the word that circulated around the campus about the future of his employment there.

“I think all of us knew something strange was going on because it seems like there’s been a lot of suspicions — ‘What’s going on? Dr. Speck’s not here’ — so I think everybody was kind of wondering what’s going to happen, if anything,” she said.

Lipira said she is optimistic about the future of the university.

“I think there’s great things ahead for Missouri Southern, and I just hope we pull together after this and move forward,” she said. “I look at it as an opportunity for a fresh start, and I look forward to great things.”

Linda Hand, a math professor and former president of the faculty senate, said she appreciates the board’s “insight and willingness to consider the faculty concerns” in its evaluation of Speck. She said a lack of communication from the president, minimal opportunities for input from faculty, and a disregard of shared governance were among the top concerns.

“We look forward to a professional, national search for someone who can capably lead Missouri Southern into the future,” she said.

Speck was named president of MSSU in 2008, having previously served as provost and vice president for academic and student affairs at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.

His presidency has not been without controversy. Faculty complaints leveled against Speck in the fall of 2009 included assertions of breaches of shared governance. The faculty later delivered a no-confidence vote against the president that was driven, in part, by accusations of poor communication and the withholding of information.

More recently, Speck was a proponent of an effort to remove the university’s international mission designation from state statute, a move that disgruntled faculty, staff and students who said they were caught by surprise by the proposal and were unhappy that there had been no public discussion of the issue beforehand. The proposal was halted by a local legislator who said he wanted to give MSSU officials more time to research potential financial consequences of eliminating the mission from the statute.

In the meantime

AN INTERIM PRESIDENT for Missouri Southern State University has yet to be named, the board said in its announcement Monday.

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