- Associated Press - Friday, December 2, 2016

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The incoming president of the University of Missouri system said Friday he will work to ensure that the system’s four campuses provide safe, diverse and inclusive environments to allow all students and faculty to achieve their full potential.

Mun Choi, a University of Connecticut provost, received a rousing welcome Friday at the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus, which was the last visit he made this week to the system’s four campuses. He told the audience, which included state lawmakers and Kansas City area civic leaders, that he will promote the universities’ education and research while also improving their impact on the state and national economy.

Choi will officially become president on March 1, replacing Tim Wolfe, who resigned after protests at the Columbia campus last November by students upset with the administration’s handling of racial and other issues. He said those issues were not unique to the University of Missouri or the Columbia campus.

“I think it’s really incumbent upon all of us, that’s administrators, students, faculty and staff, to ask within ourselves, ‘What are we contributing toward promoting a more inclusive, respectful and collegial environment?’” Choi said.

Missouri officials are already developing programs to improve diversity efforts, which he hoped would reverse an enrollment decline that some attribute to last year’s unrest. Another top priority is providing safe campuses, Choi said.

In response to a question about safety and security on college campuses across the country after reports of racial conflicts and sexual assaults, Choi said creating safe environments will be another top priority.

“After touring all the campuses I get a sense that we have … created an environment that is safe and nurturing for our students,” Choi said. “A university should be places where students feel safe, where they have an opportunity to learn without hindrance. That’s going to be a key goal for us.”

Last year’s disruptions did not affect Choi’s decision to accept the job, he said, because he believes the University of Missouri system “is one of the best university systems in the country” that is well-known for its research, student programs, high graduation rates and providing students and faculty with opportunities to make important contributions. He said sharing that message with residents in Missouri and other states will help enrollment rebound.

The protests also strained relationships with the state Legislature but two state lawmakers who represent Kansas City-area districts said Friday they were impressed with Choi and believe the relationship will improve.

“This is a new beginning,” said Rep. Jack Bondon, R-Belton. “We are optimistic that some of the hardships of the past year will be overcome.”

And Rep. Bill Kidd, a Republican from Independence, said lawmakers want the university system to succeed. He said last year’s tension might have been an “overreaction” fueled by a small number of legislators and he expects it will be greatly improved during the upcoming session.

Phillip Snowden, of Kansas City, a member of the Missouri Board of Curators, said Choi stood out from several quality candidates because of his education background, experience and proven ability to work with lawmakers, business and civic leaders in Connecticut. Choi, the first system president of Asian-American heritage, was selected after a nine-month search.

“He seems to have an understanding of all facets of a major university system,” Snowden said, adding curators were “just looking for the best candidate, regardless of background. I think we got him.”


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