He will stay on through the coming academic year
Leo E. Morton, Chancellor of the University of Missouri-Kansas City since December 2008, has announced his intention to retire in spring 2018.
During his tenure as chancellor of Kansas City’s premier urban-serving research university, Morton presided over a period of significant growth in enrollment, the university’s most successful capital campaign, creation of a strategic plan for diversity and inclusion, and a successful campaign to advance UMKC’s Downtown Campus for the Arts, one of the community’s Big Five civic priorities.
In a letter to campus sent today, Morton noted that this is actually his second retirement. As chairman of the UMKC Board of Trustees, he agreed to step in as interim chancellor in 2008 following his retirement from his career as an engineer and corporate leader. Within months, he was asked to take on the job on a permanent basis.
“I plan to remain through the upcoming academic year. I still have several major projects that I want to complete before I retire,” he wrote in the letter. Examples he cited included a new laboratory building to expand the School of Computing and Engineering, continuing to shepherd the Downtown Arts Campus to fruition, an urban youth development initiative and launching a new Career Development Institute to place UMKC students in high-impact internships throughout the Kansas City community.
Morton’s retirement announcement comes as the University of Missouri System and its four campuses embark on a major transformation in response to significant declines in state funding.
“Having worked through several significant and successful transformations at companies like AT&T and Aquila, I understand that it’s important for the team responsible for long-term execution to develop and own every aspect of the change,” Morton wrote. “There is no question in my mind that UMKC’s conversion will take several years. And, quite frankly, that’s a time commitment I am not able to make.”
But he said the campus is in capable hands and he has every confidence in the leadership team currently in place.
One of the newest additions to that team is Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, UMKC provost and executive vice chancellor, a Kansas City native who came to UMKC from Indiana University in Bloomington in 2015.
“As Chancellor, and in his relationships across the city, Leo has made UMKC so much stronger than it was when he began. I join with so many on our campus, and in our community, who appreciate the spirit of service he brings to his leadership,” Bichelmeyer said. “And I’m also grateful that he, even in transition, has committed to helping the University find its way into the future as we face unprecedented challenges.”
Mun Y. Choi took office as the UM System’s 24th president in March.
“For nearly a decade, UMKC has thrived under the leadership and vision of Chancellor Morton,” said Mun Choi, President of the University of Missouri System. “Under Chancellor Morton’s leadership, UMKC has seen record growth in enrollment, a renewed commitment to diversity and inclusion, innovation in research and an international reputation in performing arts programs. I plan to meet with the faculty, staff and students at UMKC to discuss plans for a national search for chancellor.”
Morton was named UMKC’s chancellor on Dec. 15, 2008. Prior to assuming the chancellorship, he worked at Aquila Inc., joining the firm in January 1994 as vice president for performance management. He was named senior vice president in 1996 with responsibility for re-engineering, corporate procurement and environmental services. Morton assumed additional duties for the management of human resources in 1997 and information technology in 1998. He was named senior vice president and chief administrative officer in 2000 as he also assumed responsibility for additional corporate services. Morton’s management career spanned 40 years in a wide range of engineering and manufacturing positions with Aquila, AT&T Microelectronics, Bell Laboratories, General Motors, Rust Engineering Co. and Corning Glass.
Morton had been a UMKC Trustee since 2000 and was in his third year as chairman of the Trustees Board when he stepped down to serve as the university’s interim chancellor.
A highly respected longtime civic leader in the community even before being appointed chancellor, Morton was honored as “Kansas Citian of the Year” by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce in 2014. Over the years, his civic activities have included service with and for the Blue Valley School District, the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas City Area Development Council, Menorah Medical Center, MRIGlobal, Pembroke Hill School Board, Prep-KC, Starlight Theatre, Truman Medical Centers, the Union Station Board and Urban Neighborhood Initiatives.
In 2012, Morton received the Henry W. Bloch Human Relations Award from the Jewish Community Relations Bureau. At the ceremony, he talked about life as an eyewitness to the Civil Rights movement growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, as someone who not only survived the injustices of the time, but someone who went on to achieve the dreams his family had for him despite the obstacles he had to overcome.
In his letter, Morton said he wanted to announce his retirement well in advance to help the campus lay the ground for a “graceful transition.” He concluded by reaffirming the commitment of UMKC to be Kansas City’s university.
“I have always tried to serve with the best interests of UMKC and Kansas City close to my heart, and I’ll be working in partnership with our campus and the community to ensure that UMKC continues on the path to be the great university this city needs.”