U. of Mo. has new plan to boost its national image

Thursday, October 22, 2009

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- University of Missouri leaders say they don't place much stock in annual college rankings such as those touted by U.S. News & World Report, which recently dropped the flagship campus out of its Top 100.

They also realize that rankings influence reputation. And reputation influences everything from research grants to faculty and student recruitment.

"Stature means a lot in higher education," Columbia campus Provost Brian Foster said Tuesday.

A recently unveiled program called the "Mizzou Advantage" is designed to increase the school's national reputation by targeting five areas of existing strength: food-related research; new media; human and animal health; sustainable energy and "transformational" technologies.

"The whole idea is to find competitive assets here," Foster said. "To increase our status in higher ed, but also to increase our impact."

At a Wednesday faculty meeting, Chancellor Brady Deaton said the university cannot wait for an improved national economy or long-sought increases in state money to boost its standing.

"Now is not the time to be sitting back in a garrison-type position in higher education," he told about 50 professors and administrators. "It is a time to move forward."

Foster emphasized that new program wasn't influenced by the school's declining ranking. Missouri has seen its U.S. News ranking drop for three straight years, from No. 88 in 2007 to No. 102 in the 2010 list.

Instead, a faculty panel led by Foster and former Chancellor Richard Wallace developed the strategic initiatives over the past several years.

The Columbia campus plans to spend between $4 million and $6 million annually on the program. That includes an extra $50,000 for each of 25 new faculty hires to match money provided by academic departments.

Another $60,000 a year would pay for an event coordinator who would help lure 30,000 visitors to campus each year for academic conferences.

The extra money would be culled from savings realized from a hiring freeze implemented last year on the four University of Missouri system campuses. The freeze on nonessential positions remains in place, as does a mandate to trim administrative costs by 5 percent, Foster said.

The new program will emphasize collaboration among experts in different departments. The "Food for the Future" initiative, for instance, will align plant science researchers with agriculture economists and nutrition scientists.

The new media emphasis will link the 101-year-old School of Journalism with its counterparts in engineering, computer science and communication studies. And the "One Health, One Medicine" sequence will tap the school's position as one of the few research universities with its medical, veterinary medicine and animal science programs under one roof.

Up to $1 million annually will be set aside to hire four National Academy of Sciences scholars or Pulitzer Prize winners each year.

Star scholars who don't join the faculty will be brought to campus as guest lecturers of conference participants -- the better to spread the word of Missouri's renewed efforts once they're back home.

"If we bring in even 20,000 people a year for five years, we have a relationship with 100,000 people," Foster said.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: