Secrecy surrounds University of Missouri presidential search

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Associated Press writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Keeping the name of the next University of Missouri president a secret is no easy task.

For the 19-member advisory panel gathered here to interview finalists, it meant meeting in a closed session Tuesday night at a members-only downtown dining club on the 40th floor of Metropolitan Square, the city's tallest building.

On Wednesday, the advisory committee switched downtown locations to the 35th floor of the U.S. Bank Plaza in a private law office protected by several layers of security.

Most visitors to the building are required to present identification and sign guest logs in the lobby. But the candidates, by special arrangement with search consultant Jerry Baker, were allowed to bypass that step and continue directly to the Thompson Coburn law offices.

"Some candidates have asked for that confidentiality," said university spokesman Scott Charton. "The Board (of Curators) feels this is the best way to go."

The Associated Press was shown a copy of a memo that said the panel was scheduled to interview "three finalists" under consideration to succeed Elson Floyd, who left in April to become president of Washington State University. Reporters were kept away from the meeting area.

Speculation has increasingly centered on the possible candidacy of Rep. Kenny Hulshof, a Columbia resident who received his bachelor's degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Hulshof's presence in St. Louis couldn't be confirmed, but the Republican congressman and his staff have done little to deflect the mounting questions about his interest in the job.

For the past two weeks, Hulshof's press secretary, Scott Baker, has not returned repeated phone calls to his office and cell phone, e-mails or messages left in person at the Columbia district office. The Associated Press has also left several messages at Hulshof's Columbia home.

On Tuesday, Hulshof declined an interview request by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at the U.S. Capitol, only smiling when asked if he was a candidate for the Missouri presidency.

University curators hope to have a president for the four-campus system in place before the start of the fall semester. Columbia resident Gordon Lamb, a higher education search consultant and former president of Northeastern Illinois University, is serving as interim president. He too is participating in the St. Louis interviews.

The 10 curators -- who double as the presidential search committee -- will meet next week in Columbia for their regularly scheduled sessions, which are held every two months. As of Wednesday, no search committee meetings had been scheduled.

Curators have previously interviewed presidential candidates in Kansas City and St. Louis under circumstances similar in nature to the secrecy surrounding Wednesday's session with finalists.

The advisory panel -- a group of professors, students, alumni, retirees and non-faculty employees from the four campuses -- will forward its impressions of the three finalists to curators.

The panel will not make a recommendation as a group but instead offer individual assessments of each finalist, a process that some panel members have said in private diminishes the group's role.

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