KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The new top administrator of the University of Missouri's flagship campus said Wednesday that promoting inclusion and diversity would be a priority at the Columbia school, where officials say racial acrimony in recent years has cost it enrollment and revenue.
Alexander Cartwright, the State University of New York's provost and executive vice chancellor, said he anticipates taking the helm of the Columbia campus on Aug. 1, never mind the thorny challenges that also include looming cost-cutting at the school.
"Many of these challenges are common across many institutions of higher education," Cartwright told The Association Press after being introduced as the Columbia school's first permanent chancellor since R. Bowen Loftin resigned under pressure in late 2015.
Citing the Columbia campus' reforms meant to build diversity since the 2015 student protests help topple Loftin and the system's president, Cartwright insisted that "Mizzou, as a learning institution, was committed to taking it head on" and "made a lot of progress."
"We can spend a lot of time reflecting on that (unrest)," Cartwright told the AP by telephone on what he called "a whirlwind day." But now, "what we focus on is, 'How did the institution react? What did it do?' They've done what you want universities to do — reflect on what happened and push to be much better."
Born in the Bahamas and raised in Iowa, Cartwright cast himself as a product of the American dream. From jobs such as cleaning hog buildings and a factory custodian, he got his GED and then attended community college. Cartwright went on to get a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Iowa and become a top leader of the 1.3 million-student, 64-campus SUNY system, which touts itself as the nation's biggest comprehensive system of higher education.
In that role with the system of more than 90,000 employees and a $13.3-billion budget, Cartwright's duties included overseeing diversity and inclusion policies.
"I feel particularly strongly that we have to strive for inclusive excellence," Cartwright, who is white, said during his introduction in Columbia.
Loftin and the Missouri system's president, Tim Wolfe, resigned amid protests, including a student's hunger strike and a threatened boycott by the football team, over the administration's handling of racial issues.
Since those protests, enrollment and revenue have dropped for the Columbia campus, with university administrators attributing at least part of that to negative public perception over the campus' racial issues. Preliminary figures show Columbia's freshman class this fall could be its smallest in two decades — roughly 4,000 students, down from 6,000 two years ago. Seven campus residence halls are not expected to reopen in the fall.
On Wednesday, the four-campus University of Missouri system's president, Mun Choi, insisted Cartwright was the person to solve the Columbia campus' problems.
"I am so confident we have the right leader to lead this great university," Choi said of Cartwright, calling the hire "the beginning of a new era of transformation."
On Tuesday, the governing board of the University of Missouri's four-campus system voted to increase in-state tuition by 2.1 percent to the maximum amount allowed by a state cap. Out-of-state tuition varies, rising 2.1 percent at the Columbia campus to as much as 5 percent at the St. Louis and Kansas City locations.
Garnett Stokes, Columbia's interim chancellor, has said the tuition boost could raise an additional $7 million, making up for part of the expected $16.6 million in revenue losses blamed on the enrollment drop.
This month, Stokes proposed a 12-percent budget cut — some $55 million — from all schools, colleges and divisions on that campus in fiscal year 2018, eliminating hundreds of positions in the process. The university has more than 3,000 full-time employees.
In a statement Wednesday, SUNY called Cartwright "a brilliant academic leader and researcher who has helped elevate The State University of New York as a national model of public higher education."