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Former MU Chancellor Loftin: 'I Didn't Sit Around' after Leaving Position

Rebecca Smith

On November 9, 2015, following an intense few weeks of student protests on Mizzou’s campus and the resignation of UM System President Tim Wolfe earlier the same day, University of Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin stepped up to a podium in front of  the Board of Curators and the journalists gathered.

“I have decided today that I will transition from the role of chancellor of Missouri effective at the end of this year and move into a new role where I will work with many people across the system to advance our research mission,” Loftin said.

According to R. Bowen Loftin’s Terms of Transition Agreement, signed by both Loftin and former UM System President Wolfe, his new positions would be the Director for Research Facility Development and the Director of University Research in support of the Tiger Institute for Health Innovation. This institute is a partnership between the University of Missouri and Cerner Health.

Days later, on November 12, 2015, Cerner Corporation sent a letter to the chairman of the UM Board of Governors to complain that Cerner had not been consulted or notified about the decision to give R. Bowen Loftin a role within the Tiger Institute.  

So this position did not come to fruition. What has R. Bowen Loftin been up to since he stepped down as MU Chancellor? What has he done in three and a half months – all while still being paid his full salary?

"I didn’t sit around," Loftin said. "I’ve been very busy."

Loftin has a new office in the General Services building. It is a normal looking office, with books on chemistry, math and physics lining the walls. He said the office is rather new to him, and he had been working from a small office in the Chancellor’s residence up until the new placement.

He said that he has spent the last few months communicating and reconnecting with people who could help further the university’s mission.

“One of the sort of odd benefits of last fall's events was the fact that my name became sort of made known publicly around the country a lot for a few days, and I had, I'm estimating, at least a thousand emails, phone calls, text messages, Facebook messenger messages, DMs… from people I had worked with in the past,” Loftin said. “Including former students and former colleagues at universities where I’ve been.”

Loftin had a long history in research prior to becoming a full time administrator – including being a professor of physics, a physics department chair and the director of the NASA/University of Houston Virtual Environments Research Institute from the late '90s to early 2000s.

While a new title has not yet been confirmed, Loftin said that he and Interim Chancellor Foley had a conversation about what he could do to best help the university, and they settled on Loftin using his relationships and years of experience in the field to help the university find more opportunities for funding through the national security sector.

“I want to find opportunities and relationships for faculty at MU and across the UM system that give them the ability to do what they want to do. In terms of research related to national security,” Loftin said.

An MU spokesperson sent this statement:

“Since stepping down as MU chancellor, Dr. Loftin has been exploring the feasibility for advancing the development of research at the University of Missouri relative to his unique expertise and relationships.”  

Loftin said he is reconnected with individuals that he worked with or advised in the past – trying to get himself back “up to speed” in the field.  

“I’m right now in a learning mode and in a rebuilding relationship mode,” Loftin said. “I’m trying to learn a lot about what our faculty do here and at the other three campuses in the system. So I’m on the web a lot. Going to their websites and looking at what they're doing specifically.”

He said that over time he hopes to be meeting with faculty members individually to talk about the research they would like to do in the future.

“Then if I can find a connection that enables them to build a partnership to obtain a grant or contract for their work then that’s a positive thing going forward,” Loftin said.

Loftin says he is working under the assumption that the specific letter of appointment will be finalized soon, and said he is working for a long list of bosses. According to Loftin, these include Dr. Mark McIntosh,the MU Interim Vice Chancellor for Research, Graduate Studies and Economic Development; Dr. Bob Schwartz, the Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs, Research and Economic Development of the UM System; and Dr. Elizabeth Loboa, the Dean of the College of Engineering.

Throughout the next year, in this new, still undefined position, Loftin’s salary will be at least $337,500, or 75 percent of his salary when he left office as chancellor. When asked if he thought this was fair given that campus operations intends to cut 50 positions for Fiscal Year 2017 and others across campus are facing budget cuts, Loftin replied that his salary was “not something new.”

“I came here under an appointment offer which was made in 2013 and those numbers derive from that. This isn’t anything recent,” Loftin said. “If you look at a list of people’s salaries at this university, where I sit - it’s pretty far down the list. Very far down the list. There are many many faculty here who make much more than I'll be making.”

Loftin said he is not only spending his time learning about and meeting with faculty members, but he is also traveling to different conferences and events to learn more about the field and tour the labs of those he has worked with in the past.

He has already spent days in Kansas City, and is planning to travel to Kansas City, Los Angeles and Washington – all in just the next few weeks.

When asked who was paying for the travel, the University or Loftin himself, an MU spokesperson declined to comment.

As for the current status of the Tiger Institute job, Loftin said “I’ve not heard from them since probably February this year.”  

“We had several meetings,” Loftin said. “It began the week of November 9. I had a meeting that week with the Tiger Institute director and we had other meetings past that, and I don’t know where that is right now.”

But he said, at least in his mind, he has not been sitting idle waiting for a job to come to fruition.

“I was working already the week of November the Ninth,” Loftin said. “I had several meetings that week about the types of tasks that were discussed in my agreement and I wasn’t waiting for those to actually go through some process. I began reaching out - I had a thousand emails to answer. I've spent a long time answering emails and phone calls and text messages and other kinds of communication I had from a lot of people.”

Rebecca Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth Desk. Born and raised outside of Rolla, Missouri, she has a passion for diving into often overlooked issues that affect the rural populations of her state – especially stories that broaden people’s perception of “rural” life.
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