Archive for Thursday, November 22, 2007

Business roots of Mo. university president candidate questioned

November 22, 2007

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— The potential hiring of a former telecommunications executive as the next University of Missouri system president has some faculty worried that the finalist lacks the necessary experience in academia.

Gary Forsee, the former chairman, president and chief executive officer of Sprint Nextel Corp., is considered the front-runner for the job.

While the search process is confidential, a spokesman for Gov. Matt Blunt acknowledged that Forsee met with Blunt on Tuesday to discuss the presidency.

A university advisory panel interviewed a single finalist in Kansas City the previous day, and a source familiar with the search process told The Associated Press that Forsee recently interviewed with university curators.

As speculation about Forsee's candidacy mounts, some faculty wonder whether a business executive, as opposed to a career administrator in higher education, would have the necessary management skills to lead the four-campus system.

"The university isn't a moneymaking proposition. It is built on a totally different premise, and someone who comes from that (corporate) world will have different values," said Patricia Brodsky, a University of Missouri-Kansas City professor.

"In general, I think the idea of a CEO is really a danger. It solidifies the whole idea of the corporate university."

Forsee was ousted in October from Sprint Nextel, the nation's third-largest wireless carrier, based in Reston, Va., with operational headquarters in Overland Park, Kan. He resigned under pressure from board members and shareholders unhappy with the company's plummeting stock price and a sizable loss of customers since the 2005 merger of Sprint and Nextel.

Forsee's severance package, including stock options, was valued at nearly $54 million, public filings show. That's on top of the $21.3 million annual compensation Forsee received before his forced resignation.

A Kansas City-area resident, Forsee is also a 1972 graduate of the system's Rolla campus and serves on the board of trustees for his alma mater.

Missouri curators, who will select the next president, have said they favor a candidate with strong ties to both the state and its university system.

Gary Ebersole, president of the system's Intercampus Faculty Council, said that those connections, coupled with Forsee's business background, could make Forsee a good fit.

"He is a Rolla man and knows Kansas City," said Ebersole, a professor of history and religion at the system's Kansas City campus. "And in the field he comes from, a terrain that is changing all the time just as knowledge is changing all the time, one has to be nimble, flexible and quick.

"If it's going to be a businessman, then he is probably as good as we are going to get."

Forsee is the second business leader targeted for the state's top university job. In June, New Jersey businessman Terry Sutter rejected a job offer from curators to become chief operating officer of a Florida steel manufacturer.

Rep. Kenny Hulshof, a Columbia Republican, was also a finalist during the initial search.

The new president would replace Elson Floyd, who left Missouri in April for Washington State University's top job. Interim President Gordon Lamb continues to lead the four-campus system until a new president is hired.

Curators will meet next week in Kansas City. Board Chairman Don Walsworth said he did not expect a decision by then on the new president.

The board's subsequent regular meeting is scheduled for January in St. Louis, although curators could convene earlier to announce their decision.

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