Elson Floyd to step down as UM president
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Elson Floyd to step down as UM president

Date: December 13, 2006
By: Lucie Wolken
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - State legislators were caught off guard by the announcement by the University of Missouri system President Elson Floyd of his decision to leave the university to serve as president of Washington State Universiy.

"The folks in legislative affairs did not notify us at all," Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, said. 

Governor Matt Blunt was also unaware of the move.  Floyd met with the governor Tuesday to discuss issues facing the university, but said nothing on the subject, according to Brian Hauswirth, a spokesman for Blunt. 

Regarding his failure to inform the governor personally, Floyd said, "the sequence of events flowed so quickly, that I did not have the opportunity to do that."

The governor would not take questions on the issue Wednesday, instead walking past reporters without a response. 

More than six hours after the announcement, the governor's office issue a brief, three paragraph statement on Floyd's decision to leave the University of Missouri system.

"I applaud Dr. Floyd for working to improve efficiency and eliminate waste within the state's largest public university system.  I appreciate his commitment to the Lewis & Clark Discovery Initiative and its many benefits for higher education institutions and students across the state," the governor's office wrote in their news release.  "I wish him the best in all his future endeavors.  Our higher education institutions are among the best in the world I will continue to offer them unwavering support."

Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, says she is disappointed by the move considering Floyd's positive contributions to higher education in Missouri.

"We will miss his leadership.  I think he has tried some very positive initiatives in a very challenging environment," Baker said.  "I think that if we had had a less challenging he could have even been able to do more, and I wish that he could.  He worked very hard on making higher education accessible and affordable and of course those are our priorities and he was a good beacon for those priorities at the university."

Baker said the "challenging environment" is due in part to the state's poor appropriations to higher education. 

"We have been talking for years about how the state of Missouri is on the bottom rungs of state's governements giving appropriations," Baker said.  "I think we are now 47th in per capita state appropriations for higher education.  So, that is a very challenging environment for a university president to work in."

Despite this, legislators agree that, for the most part, Floyd had a positive relationship with the legilature.

Floyd says that his move to Washington is not a reflection of frustration with a static budget and shortages in appropriation funding.

"When I arrived at the university, the University of Missouri was in its most significant downturn financially.  We have recovered as a consequence," Floyd said.  "The two percent appropriation increase that we received last year is but one example, we've have robust enrollment, private fund raising continues to be very aggressive, we have restored to financial health the hospital.  So by every measure, things are going well at the university and I have been deeply honored to be a part of that."

Floyd's resignation comes less than a month before the Missouri state legislature is to recommence with issues such as MOHELA on the agenda for debate.  Rep. Margaret Donnelly, D-St. Louis County, says that she thinks the MOHELA plan will be regarded on its merits regardless of who is at the helm.  Graham agrees.

"I think that proposal will either stand on its own or fall on its own," Graham said.

Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Boone, says that now the focus, particularly heading into the legislative session, should be on looking forward to make a quick, decisive, strong move to bring in someone who is really going to benefit the university.

As far as how this is going to affect higher education is Missouri, legislators say that it is too early to predict. 

"Obviously we are going to get three new curators and a new president, and that's a lot of change in the system in the next couple of months, along with a new interim president so there are a lot of decisions to be made," Graham said.  "I look forward to working with the university and the governor's office in that process."

"The University often speaks for itself with it's incredible research mission," Baker said.  "I know that the area legislators will be as strong as ever as spokespersons for the university.  We will hold the flag high."