Rally Welcomes UM System President-Designate Dr. Mun Y. Choi
With great fanfare and an array of symbolic gifts, the University of Missouri-Kansas City welcomed Dr. Mun Y. Choi to campus Dec. 2 – a campus Choi called “a crown jewel” in “one of the best university systems in the United States.”
Choi will become the 24th president of the University of Missouri System on March 1, 2017. He concluded an advance tour of the system’s four campuses with his first visit to Kansas City, and to Kansas City’s university, UMKC.
In a speech to a packed audience of students, faculty, staff, alumni and civic leaders at the Student Union, Choi called on the entire university community to “pursue excellence each and every day.”
Citing UMKC’s Depression-era founding, Choi said the promise of that founding has been kept.
“In 1933, your founders had the vision to say that a first-class city needs a first-class university, and by golly, you have both right here in Kansas City,” Choi said.
He called on students, faculty and staff to continuously “question the status quo” while setting high standards for teaching, research, service and economic development. He promised that the university system would work with statewide stakeholders and industry partners to focus on translational research that can be applied to solving problems and improving lives in Missouri, and around the world.
The University of Missouri System, Choi said, must work to realize the potential it has to stand in the first rank of public university systems in the United States.
“We have the capability to do that at UM, and UMKC will play a very important role in that effort.”
The University of Missouri Board of Curators announced in November that they had chosen Choi to become president of the system. He has been serving as provost and executive vice president of the University of Connecticut, like UM, a public land-grant university.
Curators chair Pamela Henrickson introduced Choi.
“Great leaders couple their vision for the future with a healthy understanding and appreciation for the lessons of history. A strong and successful leader of the UM System will be its greatest advocate and champion,” Henrickson said. “Mun is known for his ability to set the direction of change and innovation. He not only comes up with bold ideas—he knows how to translate those ideas into action to achieve results.”
Choi was greeted by applauding students as he walked up the stairs to the fourth floor of the Student Union. Inside the meeting room, he was greeted by a jazz combo, balloons, banners and UMKC mascot Kasey Roo.
Chancellor Leo E. Morton opened the program by thanking the large crowd of civic leaders and members of the university community.
“We have come together today as one Kansas City,” Morton said. “That is as it should be, because UMKC has always been an integral part of the fabric of our community.”
UMKC Provost Barbara A. Bichelmeyer introduced university stakeholders who presented Choi with Kansas City- and UMKC-themed gift baskets, after sharing a brief outline of UMKC’s history with Choi.
“At the height of the Great Depression, Kansas City’s civic leadership committed to a bold idea. They founded a university in 1933 to serve as a catalyst for growth, a statement of confidence, and a beacon of hope. It was a university created by, and for, this community. And we have been bound to this community, and this community to us, ever since,” Bichelmeyer said. “Much has changed since those days, but the essential idea – a university by and for Kansas City – has not.”
Navya Sane, president of the Student Government Association, drew hearty applause when she presented Choi with a UMKC athletic jersey designed by KC-based Charlie Hustle, with Choi’s name and the numeral ‘1’ on the back.
Jerry Wycoff, Ph.D., chair of the UMKC Faculty Senate, welcomed Choi “as a leader and a fellow scholar,” and presented him with several books authored by faculty members, and a jazz CD recorded by Bobby Watson, director of UMKC’s acclaimed jazz program.
Dea Marx, representing UMKC staff, offered a gift basket symbolic of the close ties between campus and community, including tickets to UMKC and other local athletic and cultural events, and barbecue gift certificates.
Pat Macdonald, immediate past president of the UMKC Alumni Association, presented Choi with a gift she asked him not to open – yet.
“We have a box for you, engraved with the date of March 1, 2017, when you will officially begin your tenure. It is illustrated with an engraving of the original UMKC Kangaroo, which as you heard earlier, was drawn by Walt Disney himself. Inside the box is a collection of heartfelt messages – messages of support, messages of confidence, messages of commitment to partnership,” Macdonald said. “For all leaders, there inevitably comes a time when the challenges seem particularly daunting, when energy and inspiration wane just a bit. Keep our gift close by, and open it when those times come. We want these heartfelt messages to serve as a storage battery of hope and good will for you to draw on when you need it most.”
Genaro Ruiz, a member of the UMKC Hispanic Advisory Board, then came to the podium, joined by curator emerita Angela Bennett, of the UMKC Chancellor’s African-American Leaders Council; and Mike Sigler, a member of the UMKC Chancellor’s LGBT Council.
“Today, it is our honor to present you with a framed photograph of one of our greatest alumni, participating in one of UMKC’s greatest moments. It shows President Harry S. Truman speaking from the steps of Scofield Hall. He stopped here in 1945, shortly after becoming President, to receive our university’s first-ever honorary doctorate,” Ruiz said. “In the frame along with the picture are vitally important words he spoke that day: ‘This American nation of ours is great because of its diversity – because it is a people drawn from many lands and many cultures, bound together by the ideals of human brotherhood.’ These words are our history, as a campus and a community. Today, they become your history as well. Dr. and Mrs. Choi, we are honored and proud to welcome you into our UMKC family.”