School officials emerged from a 90-minute closed meeting to announce the former Sprint Nextel chairman and chief executive's departure. He has been on an extended leave of absence since early December following his wife Sherry's cancer diagnosis.
Forsee has been president of the four-campus system since February 2008. The longtime telecommunications executive is a graduate the University of Missouri-Rolla, now known as Missouri University of Science and Technology. He and his wife have two grown daughters.
He moved to Cape Girardeau with his family in 1966, graduated from high school and returned during summer breaks from the University of Missouri-Rolla to work for Procter & Gamble. He and his wife have maintained ties to the region, and in 2000 donated $25,000 to the Southeast Missouri University Foundation for an endowed scholarship.
Steve Owens, the system's general counsel, will continue to handle Forsee's duties as interim president until a replacement is chosen. Owens said he is not a candidate for the permanent job.
Forsee's departure comes as state lawmakers returning to Jefferson City prepare to wrestle with a budget shortfall expected to result in the university system's first tuition increase in three years. Forsee and Gov. Jay Nixon were the chief architects of a two-year tuition freeze for Missouri's public colleges and universities in exchange for relatively modest budget cuts in higher education.
Warren Erdman, chairman of the university's Board of Curators, credited Forsee with boosting the commitment to research and economic development, reorganizing the university health care system and generally bringing a more business-oriented approach to the Columbia, Kansas City, Rolla and St. Louis campuses.
Forsee spent 35 years in the telecommunications industry with AT&T, BellSouth and GlobalOne before he took over Sprint in 2003. He resigned under pressure from board members and shareholders unhappy with declining stock prices and customer losses after the 2005 merger of Sprint and Nextel and received a $55 million severance.
In October 2008, Forsee and his wife, Sherry, tapped some of that personal wealth and donated $1 million toward a new distance education technology network that will link the four university system campuses. He is paid $400,000 annually, with an additional $100,000 in performance-based incentives. Erdman said that Forsee has declined those bonus payments.
"We all know that Gary didn't need to take this job three years ago, but he took it for the right reasons," Erdman said. "And he tackled it with a vengeance."
Erdman said that Forsee disclosed his decision on Monday night during a two-hour meeting in Kansas City, where Erdman lives and Forsee keeps a home. Curators plan to discuss the selection of a search firm and the hiring process at their next scheduled meeting in Columbia in late January.