Hulshof confirms candidacy for Univ. of Missouri presidency

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Associated Press writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof on Wednesday confirmed what he called "a poorly guarded secret" -- he is a finalist to become the next University of Missouri president.

In a written statement issued soon after his confidential interview with a 19-member advisory panel, the Republican congressman from Columbia said he is "humbled to be one of the candidates for this important post."

"My professional career has been dedicated to public service," said Hulshof, a former special state prosecutor who has served in Congress since 1996. "I consider this position a rare opportunity to extend this service in a unique way. It is one of the very few jobs for which I would consider leaving Congress."

Hulshof's acknowledgment capped several weeks of mounting speculation surrounding his interest in succeeding Elson Floyd, who departed in April to become president of Washington State University.

The announcement also shined light on a search process that has otherwise been cloaked in secrecy.

The advisory panel met in a closed session Tuesday night at a members-only downtown dining club on the 40th floor of Metropolitan Square, the tallest building in St. Louis.

On Wednesday, that 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 Floyd.

Hulshof said he did "not know the situation of other candidates being considered." He also addressed concerns that taking the job could inject partisan politics into the state's higher education system.

"I have assured curators and the advisory committee that my intense dedication to guarding the interests of this university would not be colored by political bias," he said. "The University of Missouri should not be used as a political football between warring factions on any one issue. The independence of the university must be fiercely protected."

In Washington, Hulshof regularly sided with conservative Republicans opposed to efforts to broaden embryonic stem cell research, a scientific procedure being conducted in limited form at the system's flagship Columbia campus.

But on Wednesday, one of the leading advocates of expanded stem cell research in Missouri supported Hulshof's candidacy.

"I'm a big Hulshof fan," former U.S. Sen. John Danforth told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It's clear to me that he's not an ideologue."

Danforth, a St. Louis attorney, was a leading supporter of Amendment 2, the statewide ballot initiative Missouri voters narrowly approved last year. The initiative adds a state constitutional amendment protecting all stem cell research allowed under federal law.

Danforth said that Hulshof, a fellow Republican, called him a week ago to disclose his candidacy for the university's top post.

"I'm not worried about it," Danforth said, referring to Hulshof's stance on such research. "He said he was not interested in using the presidency to block research.

"He is used to dealing with people with differing views," Danforth added. "If (Hulshof) were somebody who would go in with some social agenda, you can't have that. But I don't see him in that light at all."

Hulshof, a Columbia resident who received his bachelor's degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, also cited family considerations as a factor in his decision.

A university job would mean no more weekly commutes to Washington and more time with his wife and two young daughters. Overseeing the campuses in Columbia, St. Louis, Kansas City and Rolla would also likely double his current salary.

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. The curators, as the search committee, will also convene Friday afternoon by telephone conference call.

Curators have previously interviewed presidential candidates in Kansas City and St. Louis under circumstances similar 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.

Associated Press writer Sam Hananel in Washington, D.C. contributed to this report.

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