A New Era | UMKC Welcomes UM President

“A new era,” is what Pamela Henrickson called Dr. Mun Y Choi’s new position as President of the University System. He and other key members of the University of Missouri administration walked into room 401 last Friday to an applauding crowd.

In the words of Leo Morton, UMKC Chancellor, it was a “who’s who of the Kansas City community.” Two state representatives, members of the Missouri 100, business leaders from Cerner, Black and Veatch, as well as student representatives were all in attendance.

Dr. Choi himself, though keeping fairly close to the stage, mingled with representatives from student and faculty organizations and shaking hands.

Quoting from President Truman, Dr. Choi opened his speech.

“The University of Missouri system and UMKC are 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.”

Throughout his address, he riffed on themes of listening and diversity, the issues that drove the protests last year.

“Students [are] at the center of the reason for our being,” Dr. Choi said, speaking of the university and its faculty. As part of that focus, he promised to work on expanding pell grant availability, bettering technological infrastructure and developing research programs.

The top priority for many students, however, is whether or not Dr. Choi will represent a more active and receptive administration than that of his predecessor. Rakeem Golden, the student representative on the search committee, while insisting on supporting Dr. Choi, expressed some dismay at students not playing more than an advisory role in the selection of presidential candidates.  He did say that he was surprised by the search committee’s choice, but didn’t offer any further comment. Golden said that his main role, and that of the student body, is to stay present and to be involved in the decisions the university makes.

“There’s no real expectation,” said Golden about what Dr. Choi has done to engage the student body. “We’ll have to wait and see. What he’s done right now is he’s been to each campus and he’s learning the culture of each campus.”

Golden hopes that Dr. Choi will take the time to learn the unique environment of each campus.

Dr. Choi also took time to explain what he would do to ensure students were represented.

“I’ve made it a point to meet with the student groups,” he said. “To listen to their aspirations for ways that the system can support their key activities.”

Providing low cost textbooks and tuition assistance were repeated parts of his plan, which seemed to be a step towards interaction with the campuses. Part of the new president’s appeal was his experience as a faculty member. A number of the people interviewed were optimistic that he will reach out and create a dialogue with students and staff about a new direction for the university. For the student body, the time between now and March may be an indicator of that.

University of Missouri alumni, who donated 33 million dollars in 2015, have an equally strong interest in the direction of the university. UMKC and the other campuses create skilled workers that many of the growing companies in Missouri need. With his previous work in program development and research at the University of Connecticut, Dr. Choi is expected to deepen those connections and provide greater post college opportunities for UM students.

Part of Dr. Choi’s promise to keep UMKC on the cutting edge of research and development was to work with local government. Representative Jack Bondon was confident in Dr. Choi’s ability to work with governmental leaders.

“In a time when a system has faced some challenges, it is a hopeful day for the University of Missouri system that we will have great opportunities ahead of us,” said Bondon.

Both Representative Bondon and Representative Kidd were confident that the tensions between the state legislature and the UM system would be worked out under his leadership. Representative Kidd proposed an increase in extension services, things like 4H and horticulture programs, which would draw students to the university. Other programs, such as moving the conservatory to a new site by the Kauffman Center, were also proposed as a way that the new administration could improve and expand UMKC and the UM system.

The exact nature of Dr. Choi’s administration is yet to be seen, but he will have to walk a careful line between student, alumni, board member and donor interests. It may very well be the start of a new era in the University of Missouri history. The upcoming year will be the real test of whether or not Dr. Choi can fulfill the vision he gave to “create an inclusive, welcoming, collegial, and respectful environment.”

 

grandolph@unews.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *