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Last November, we were frustratingly commiserating in the aftermath of “the time of troubles” that roiled the MU campus here. Now, a year later, we’re congratulating the university’s Board of Curators for their choice of president over the four campus UM System. The only regret is that 52-year-old Dr. Mun Choi won’t start work until March 1, 2017. As a dollop of good news however, Dr. Choi is coming back home, so to speak, to the Midwest; when he was still a boy, his family emigrated from South Korea to Chicago, where they settled in their new land of opportunity.
A solidly credentialed research engineer with an earned doctorate from Princeton University, Dr. Choi, with his accession here, resumes the time-honored tradition of filling university presidencies from the realm of academe. The curators’ announcement and introduction of Dr. Choi was deliberately staged in Jefferson City to emphasize that one of his missions will be to repair and replenish the four campus UM System’s relationships among a variety of constituencies across the state.
With a year to think about what happened last November, we see that anointing a so-called “captain of industry” to be the president of the University of Missouri System turned out to be a colossal mistake. As we learn more about the relationship between the deposed president and the equally deposed former Columbia campus chancellor, it’s probable Mr. Wolfe, in returning to his adopted hometown, was more interested in Loftin’s role than in presiding over the four campus system. It’s much more exciting to be the on-campus chancellor of a major university than to be holed up in “Six Flags over Seven Forty” every day fretting about everything from appeasing state legislators to worrying about a cornucopia of financial issues. Dr. Choi will have a full plate of issues to deal with.
Among the more pressing problems facing Dr. Choi are two organizations that are major pillars of the Academy — the American Association of Universities, or AAU, and the American Association of University Professors, or AAUP.
Most of us until recently have never heard of the AAU, but Old Mizzou’s 100-plus year membership in this august group of research universities is under threat because research activity here has fallen below what is considered to be an acceptable threshold vis-a-vis the university’s peer institutions. Realizing its importance, acting chancellor Dr. Hank Foley has stuck with this one like a junkyard dog. Here’s hoping Dr. Choi, with his national research reputation, most recently at UConn–Storrs, can step into the fray and work with Dr. Foley to preserve MU’s membership in the AAU.
Then there’s the AAUP, which is almost certain to censure MU for the way it awkwardly handled former assistant communications Professor Click’s otherwise outrageous outbursts during the time of troubles a year ago. Quite a few colleges and universities end up being censured by the AAUP for a variety of reasons, but it’s usually over some incident that the passage of time manages to ameliorate. In this case, we have every confidence Dr. Choi will finesse MU out of the AAUP dungeon.
There’s also a labor issue that will involve working with Dr. Foley — the fractious relationship that developed between graduate students and the university administration. More blunders brought this on, so the students organized a union. Maybe Dr. Choi can lead the team to negotiate the differences between the university and its graduate students into an honorable settlement.
Dr. Choi will be the 27th president of the university. Quite a few who preceded him didn’t hang around very long, a pace that accelerated starting in 1966, when Dr. John C. Weaver succeeded one of MU’s more legendary presidents, Dr. Elmer Ellis. For the sake of the university, let’s hope Dr. Choi “works out” and stays here more than a few years to get Old Mizzou back on the rails again.
In other news: Last month, we noted that, according to Bloomberg News, GateHouse Media paid $18 million for the Columbia Daily Tribune and the Tribune Publishing Company. More recent information from GateHouse puts the purchase price, including a Rochester, New York business publication, at only $8.5 million. Backing out the cost of the other publication, the Waters family probably netted about $8 million (or less) for the assets they sold, representing a substantial “haircut” compared to what they would have been offered say ten years ago. Now comes news that GateHouse is looking for new office quarters here with plans to abandon the somewhat iconic Tribune building at 101 N. Walnut St. that was first occupied by the newspaper in December 1973. As an aside: archaeologists may someday compile a list of premises either abandoned or torn down that at one time were occupied by various newspapers, TV, and radio stations. The most recent “scraping,” in December 2014, was of the KFRU premises at 1911 Business Loop 70 E. that headquartered the radio station between 1950 and 1993.
Al Germond is the host of the Columbia Business Times Sunday Morning Roundtable at 8:15 a.m. Sundays on KFRU. He can be reached at email@example.com.