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University of Missouri

Buoyant Leadership

Interim chancellor talks protests, leadership and more.

Foley portrait

Hank Foley was named Mizzou’s interim chancellor in November. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

MU administrator Hank Foley took over as interim chancellor in the wake of student protests and top-leadership resignations. He offers his thoughts on recent events at MU and the way forward.

MIZZOU: What lessons have we learned from recent protests?

FOLEY: The seeming suddenness of the protests caught people off guard. It was startling. One lesson is that we all need to listen to one another and learn from one another. I want to acknowledge the anxiety and even the grief alumni might feel. It’s painful to see your school in international news portrayed in ways suggesting it’s nothing like the school you have known. And yet, we have to realize that’s part of what the media do when they take an angle on a story. People have come away with many inaccurate impressions.

The reality is that, throughout the protests, the work of the university continued. UM System President Tim Wolfe was not fired. He resigned of his own volition because he thought it was the right thing to do. Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin stepped down the same day, but for a very different reason: He had lost the confidence of his team.

In the end, the media move on, and students will move past this, too. MU remains a highly credible, top-notch university where strong students and faculty want to work and study.

MIZZOU: What kind of social environment are you trying to create on campus?

FOLEY: An important idea has gotten lost in all the talk: If we make things better on campus for students who don’t feel included right now, the atmosphere gets better for everyone. We become more welcoming and inclusive to all students, faculty and staff.

We are transitioning from the days when students and their parents had relatively low expectations of higher education, the time when faculty members showed up and taught their classes, students took their tests, and that was it. Increasingly, students expect us to provide personalized academic options and out-of-class experiences. For example, more students are combining multiple majors in innovative ways. We look forward to the time — and it’s not far off — when students will work with facilitators to assemble a course of study, adapting it as they go.

We envision long-term relationships as part of lifelong learning. Universities will grow in importance. There’s a pretty cool future out there, so much so that I wish I were 20 years younger.

MIZZOU: What is your approach to leading a university?

FOLEY: My philosophy is grounded in academic values that include academic freedom and, to the extent possible, shared governance and institutional autonomy.

I also pay a lot of attention to the financial aspects of what we do. In our times of relative scarcity, it’s nice to understand things like simple payback, internal rate of return, net present value, and other concepts I practiced in industry and taught in engineering courses. MU is not a business, but we are an enterprise, and there’s a lot to inform us from the business world as we go forward. My job is to pick us up, dust us off, get us moving forward again and restore trust in progress.

I’d like to help the university community — faculty, staff and students alike — see the university more strategically from both the expense and revenue sides. As an institution, we have agency. Our outcomes are not solely determined by outside entities. We have opportunities to control our destiny.

MIZZOU: What are your thoughts going forward?

FOLEY: This has been a troubling and difficult time, and so it might be too soon for people to hear me say I am optimistic about the future. But the University of Missouri is a strong and resilient enterprise that has been here since 1839. No organization is perfect, but this is a darned good one, and it’s just going to keep getting better. Those of us here on the ground are feeling positive.

Henry C. “Hank” Foley was named interim chancellor of the University of Missouri Nov. 10, 2015. Beginning in July 2013, he served as the MU senior vice chancellor for research and graduate studies and the UM System executive vice president for academic affairs, research and economic development. A professor of chemistry and chemical engineering, Foley is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Industrial and Engineering Division of the American Chemical Society and the National Academy of Inventors. More at chancellor.missouri.edu.