We have completed the search for executive vice president and provost.
Zora Mulligan will be our new executive vice president. For reasons I discuss below, we will designate an interim provost.
Leadership and creativity
I selected Zora because of her leadership abilities, creativity and broad experience in higher education.
I have witnessed these skills throughout the time I have known Zora.
For example, she facilitated the agreement that allowed us greater ability to offer professional doctoral degrees. In my view, consensus was not going to be possible to achieve on that issue. By getting everyone to the table and finding a pathway for each stakeholder to get some, but not all, of what they wanted, Zora found a way to achieve a consensus.
Observers throughout the country have taken note of Zora’s leadership abilities. Last year, she received the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) Exceptional Leader Award. She was essentially named the top commissioner in the country.
Creative problem solver
Zora sees opportunities others do not and finds ways to bring them to fruition.
Her work to consolidate Missouri’s Department of Higher Education with the Division of Workforce Development is a great example of her creativity. She envisioned a novel department unlike any of its peers throughout the country. She saw an opportunity to combine the state’s post-secondary talent development functions in a way that benefits Missouri citizens and more efficiently administers state resources.
Zora’s work to create the Fast Track program, establish the Missouri College Access Network, increase student access to childcare, promote education pathways, expand summer bridge programs, and fully fund the Access Missouri need-based financial assistance program demonstrate her innovative approach to address modern obstacles in post-secondary education.
As we move to a model that includes an executive vice president, I will work with the academic and administrative leadership teams to develop a set of duties, assignments and direct reports that capitalize on Zora’s strengths as a leader and a post-secondary education innovator.
She will lead our efforts to redesign the university to meet modern educational needs. This will involve innovative approaches that target employer and community partnerships, adult and online students, and traditional students and parents who are increasingly skeptical about the value of a college education.
It will also involve creative approaches to overcome matriculation, retention, and graduation barriers current and prospective students experience at MSU.
Stepping in as needed
The Board of Governors regularly asks me who would step in to lead the university if something happened that left me incapacitated. My answer throughout my presidency has always been the same — Jim Baker or Frank Einhellig could lead the university.
When Frank and Jim announced their retirements, the board told me that they wanted to be sure we hired someone who could lead the university in my absence. Zora is clearly up to the task of filling this role.
Having an executive vice president to act as second-in-command will free me up to focus on external affairs, advocacy, fundraising, and managing the university’s finances and assets.
With 16 direct reports, I spend far too much time managing the day-to-day affairs of every component of the university’s operations. I look forward to passing some of these responsibilities to Zora so we can both focus our efforts on what we do best.
Developing a succession plan
In addition to someone who could lead if I became incapacitated, the board told me they wanted us to hire someone who had the potential to be a strong internal candidate for president when I retire.
The board has not committed that our next president will come from inside the university. However, they would like to have a viable internal option when they search for my replacement.
I do not plan to be president of Missouri State University forever. I am 61 years old.
I love this job and the university, but there are other things I would like to do before I grow too old to do them. Gail and I have grandchildren to love, travel destinations to experience, adventures to pursue, public service and volunteering opportunities to participate in, and so much life left to live outside of work.
I have not made specific retirement plans. My current contract runs through June 30, 2026, and I have told the board that I do not plan to stay in this job any longer than that.
In the meantime, the board rightly wants to prepare for the future by hiring and developing a strong internal candidate for president who has the skills necessary to successfully run the university.
Zora Mulligan abounds in these skills. She has demonstrated the wisdom throughout her career to know when to pause, when to drive forward, when to cut bait, when to finesse, and when to forge through adversity.
She has good judgment and makes excellent decisions. She respects people and processes. Above all, her passion for the academy, access to education, inclusive excellence, and student success are unparalleled.
We are beyond fortunate that Zora accepted this position, and I look forward to working with her.
An interim provost will be named
During the search process, faculty expressed concerns about hiring a candidate who has not worked as a professor to serve as provost.
I am confident that Zora would be an effective EVP/Provost, regardless of the fact that her credentials and professional experiences differ from that of many of our faculty members.
I was ready to hire her for the position. It would have been within the purview of my role as president to do so. However, after discussing the concerns with Zora, the board and others, I determined it could prove difficult for her to lead effectively if faculty concerns lingered.
Accordingly, as noted above, I have named Zora as the executive vice president, and I will name an interim provost before Frank retires at the end of June.
I have discussed this at length with the search committee, academic leadership team, administrative council, and Board of Governors. These groups support the plan to hire Zora as executive vice president and name an interim provost.
This both meets our immediate needs and, as an interim solution funded with one-time funds, it does not involve a permanent expansion of administrative positions.
I hope you will join me in congratulating Zora and welcoming her to our campus community.
Thanks for all you do for Missouri State!