Dean Van Galen was chosen Monday to be the next president on Missouri Southern State University. From what we've learned, he could be a great fit for a great school.
Up front, we like what might be characterized as his student-centered approach.
"You would find me talking a great deal about students and our impact on those students and their stories,” he said during a previous campus visit. “That, to me, is where it starts and stops.”
During that visit, he also encouraged students to engage with him in conversations about two important issues: university finances and shared governance, adding that it’s “so important” for students to have a voice.
Van Galen also pointed out the importance for a university president to visit regularly with lawmakers and said he was part of such an effort in Wisconsin "that has moved the needle a little bit. ... I think the relationships universities build with elected officials is really critical to help them understand (the value of higher education).”
We don't doubt that our lawmakers do understand that and do their best to provide funding for higher education, but unfortunately, higher education is one of the discretionary items in the state budget and absorbs more than the lion's share — if we can say it that way — of budget cuts.
Experienced lobbying for higher education funding is going to be critical in the future, particularly because we've always said the primary focus of the Board of Governors and its administration must be keeping tuition and fees low in an area where incomes fall below the national average. Yet at the same time, we want MSSU to offer students as many opportunities as possible, one of the most successful of those initiatives being the international mission.
At the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Van Galen led a five-year campaign to raise $20 million, with an emphasis on student scholarships. He surpassed that goal six months early. He also launched new education-abroad programs in China and Mexico, as well as bachelor's degrees in agricultural engineering, data science and predictive analytics, and neuroscience.
It also appears that Van Galen has both the teaching and administrative experience necessary for the role.
He is a 1982 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and earned a doctorate in analytical chemistry from Kansas State University. He was an assistant professor of chemistry at Truman State University in Kirksville and served in leadership roles at that university, which means he's familiar with Missouri's challenges. He most recently served as chancellor of UW-River Falls.
Bill Gipson, chairman of the MSSU Board of Governors, said, "Van Galen demonstrates exactly the experience, education and background we were seeking."
Alison Hershewe, the board's vice president and chair of the search committee, told us, "He is a fit in every aspect of the position profile. He checks all of the boxes. His demonstrated commitment to the student experience impressed us all. All of us — students, faculty, staff and board of governors — feel both confidence and excitement as we anticipate his presidency.”
We welcome him as the newest Lion.