Strong listening and communication skills and the desire to better Missouri Southern State University are among the qualities that stakeholders want to see in the next university president, they said Tuesday in a lightly attended open meeting.
Participants were asked the following questions: What traits, skills and experience should Missouri Southern look for in a presidential candidate? What should the vision be for the university, and what leadership qualities do you think will help the university achieve that vision? What suggestions do you have for the search committee?
Discussion of the questions took place in five small groups, although 12 tables were set up in the ballroom in Billingsly Student Center with seats for up to 72 people. Turnout was light; 25 people, including five who sit on the 12-member presidential search committee, participated in the meeting.
The end result of the effort is to find a permanent successor to Bruce Speck, who was ousted by the MSSU Board of Governors last spring. Alan Marble, former president of Crowder College at Neosho, has as interim president been at the university’s helm since shortly after Speck’s departure. He has made it clear that he wants to be among those considered for the permanent position.
Participants on Tuesday brainstormed a long list of qualities they would like to see in the next president.
Among those were the ability to sustain relationships on and off campus, an understanding of higher education, and the ability to inspire the faculty, staff and students, said Mark Lloyd, president of the Alumni Association board of directors and dean of student engagement and retention.
“(We need) someone who is innovative and a visionary, someone who understands how to set this institution apart,” he said, speaking on behalf of his small group.
Another group of participants said a president should be willing to listen and solicit feedback, understand Missouri Southern’s governing structure and mission, build on the university’s strengths, and have previous experience with public institutions of higher education, said Paul Teverow, that group’s spokesman and a history professor.
“‘Charismatic’ is one way you could put it; another way is ‘inspires confidence,’” he said. “(There should be) a willingness to let people do their jobs, to have trust in the employees.”
Addressing the second question, participants also had varying ideas as to what MSSU’s vision should be. Speaking on behalf of his small group, Steve Smith, the university’s digital media content coordinator, said the vision should include the international mission, and that the new president should focus on “reinvigorating” that mission.
“The mission has been unique to Missouri Southern for years, and it’s something that sets our university apart and gives us quite a bit of identity,” he said.
To help achieve the university’s vision, the president should lead long-term fundraising campaigns “to take this university to a new level regarding facilities, programs and other interests,” focus on improving student retention and graduation rates, and connect with MSSU and the Joplin area, Smith said.
“We strongly feel that part of the vision is finding the person (in whom) all parties will have confidence,” he said.
Raymond Dunaway, an accounting student who serves on the search committee, said his group’s ideas for MSSU’s vision include making the university a more integral part of the community, competing with other universities to attract “top talent” and expanding academic opportunities.
Dunaway said a president could support those visions by having a background in education, being willing to work with the community, adapting to and leading change, and having the ability to understand who and what Missouri Southern is.
“Not to want to be other colleges — but to be Missouri Southern — is extremely important in what we’re looking for,” he said.
Participants’ written answers and suggestions will be given to the search committee, which is expected to convene for the first time in late January. Richard Walter, chairman of the Board of Governors who is co-chairing the search committee, said video and a transcript of the meeting will eventually be posted to the university’s website.
A SECOND MEETING will be held from 11 a.m. to noon today in Connor Ballroom in Billingsly Student Center.