The University Of Missouri System Board Of Curators, along with the campus chancellors and other board members, gathered Wednesday to announce the newly selected university system president – Dr. Mun Choi.
Choi comes from the University of Connecticut where he has served as the provost and executive vice president of the university since 2012. Choi said his career as an academic brings a new perspective to the position of system president. The system’s last two presidents had business backgrounds when they were hired.
"Serving as a faculty member who has been involved in funded research, teaching classes, performing outreach activities in the community, has been very supportive in my development as an administrator," Choi said. "So I understand the aspirations and the struggles of faculty members."
Choi did note that as President he will have to be mindful of the business aspect of running “3.1 billion dollar enterprise” that is the University System.
However, he said his first priority is meeting and listening to stakeholders.
"To understand Missouri, to understand the aspirations of our elected officials, of our chancellors but just as importantly, the aspirations of our students and our faculty and our staff. They, as I stated, are the heart and soul of our university," Choi explained.
Choi did acknowledge that his job, which begins in March, won’t be easy, as there are issues that need to be addressed throughout the UM system.
One of these being issues of discrimination and a lack of diversity on campus.
Choi said that the incidents on MU's campus last fall aren't unique. In fact, he has some experience addressing similar concerns at the University of Connecticut. According to the Daily Campus, the student paper, as student protests occurred on MU’s campus, UConn students and faculty voiced similar complaints – a lack of action from administration addressing racism. Though Choi was never mentioned specifically.
"There are lessons learned from every university and for us, we have to take those best practices whether it’s at the University of Missouri or University of Connecticut, and learn from that, I think that's key," Choi said.
He adds that he has experience finding and implementing solutions for these problems.
"I've always developed new programs that have provided opportunities: pipeline development for underrepresented minority students, bridge program for women students in engineering," Choi said.
Then there’s the issue of graduate student rights at MU. Uncertainty surrounding health insurance subsidies and other issues led to protests and an eventual vote from grad students to unionize. However, the university has chosen not to recognize the union, which has led to litigation.
"Graduate students are the lifeblood of a research university. Their contribution for pursuing research and scholarship working with our faculty members and doing the important, having the important responsibility of serving as teaching assistant is critical for a university like the university of Missouri system," Choi said.
The Coalition of Graduate Workers released a statement saying they looked forward to working with Choi "to settle over a year of unfortunate instability and begin collective bargaining."
"We hope that in his new role, Dr. Choi will recognize the regretfully costly and wasteful nature of the University’s decision to force legal action, and will voluntarily recognize the union," the statement said.
Choi said that before he can address issues in the UM system he needs to learn more.
Tori Schaffer is the Missouri Student Association Vice President. She said it was encouraging to know Choi wasn’t new to addressing student concerns about race.
"It was very reassuring for me to see he was passionate about those issues," Schaeffer said. "Building on the history, and that’s a big part of moving forward with the social justice movement is knowing your history."
Schaffer also said having a system president that comes from an academic background was something students wanted. Interim MU Chancellor Hank Foley agreed.
"Academia is different than business - universities are not businesses. They're enterprises - they have budgets all sorts of things that make them look like businesses, but at the end of the day, it's not a business," Foley explained. "It's deeper than that and I think Mun Choi really understands that right down to his core."
Foley added he's excited to begin work with Choi.
Susan Herbst, President of the University of Connecticut released a statement congratulating Choi and thanking him for his service to the university.
"The job market in higher education is a national one, and Mun is a talented and tenacious leader, so it comes as no surprise that other high quality institutions would seek him out. Any university would be lucky to have him," Herbst said in her statement.
Choi is slated to begin work on March 1, 2017. In the meantime, he said he plans to visit the four UM system campuses, and start building relationships with current administrators and students.