ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY: Dunn a semifinalist in Missouri State search

Murray State President Randy Dunn has been named one of two finalists in Missouri State University’s search for a president. || File photo

Murray State President Randy Dunn has been named one of two finalists in Missouri State University’s search for a president. || File photo

President Randy Dunn was named one of two semifinalists in the search for a Missouri State University president Monday.

The other semifinalist is  Clifton M. Smart III, the current interim president of Missouri State.

Dunn, who has been served at Murray State since Dec. 1, 2006, informed the Board of Regents Saturday via email, he could possibly be a semifinalist and on Monday Missouri State confirmed he was.

Dunn told the regents he was still dedicated to his post as president, and would fulfill his duties regardless of what the Missouri State Board of Governors ultimately decided. He said his motivation to apply was not a result of any dealings at Murray State. Like any professional individual, he said, he seeks to better his opportunities and range of career.

“It certainly was not an indication of dissatisfaction or happiness here,” Dunn said Tuesday after the announcement. “I’ve been here six years and had success getting a large number of projects brought to completion. It seemed that if I was going to look at another opportunity, this was probably a good time to do it. We’re ending several large projects, and my contract is coming up to an end.”

Dunn’s on-campus interview at Missouri State will be held Oct. 7-9 with a full set of meetings, including an open forum from 3:30-4:30 p.m. Oct. 8 in the Plaster Student Union Theater. The multi-day visits will also include interviews with the Board of Governors; individual sessions with faculty, staff, students and the community; trips to the Mountain Grove and West Plains campuses; and tours of the main Springfield campus and community.

The decision-making body at Missouri State has indicated it hopes to have announced its new president by Nov. 1, only a month away. Should Dunn be selected, he would start no later than July 1 of next year.

This is the second time Dunn has been involved with a presidential search outside the University while he occupied the top spot at Murray State. In October 2010, the University of Tennessee’s presidential search panel announced its semifinalists, and while Dunn was nominated as an applicant, he was not selected. During that search period, however, Dunn had not actively sought the nomination, he was simply chosen. This is the first time Dunn has been public about applying to another university.

Jeremiah Johnson, Student Government Association President and student regent on the Board, said he was surprised the president had applied.

Johnson said he understood Dunn’s move, but it came as a shock to him and other SGA representatives.

“I guess you could expect he would want to advance his career,” Johnson said. “Everyone wants to, but when my (SGA) Executive Board found out, they were shocked and surprised to hear Dunn was even applying at other universities.”

Johnson said many students have learned of the search at Missouri State University and think he is jumping ship and abandoning his post.

He said it was important the students knew the role of the president, who is the head liaison between the Regents and the University.

“The president handles all University entities and is the head lobbyist of the University,” Johnson said. “The staff, faculty and students expect the president to lobby for them.”

Dunn’s contract ends at Murray State on June 30, 2014.

Johnson said the Regents have previously discussed renewing Dunn’s contract, but the board as a whole had not spoken or acted collectively on the preliminary discussions.

Board members undertook an extensive eight-month investigation into Dunn’s performance at the University last year that surveyed constituencies University-wide and involved interviews of more than 100 on- and off-campus individuals. At the conclusion of the search, no published conclusions were made, leaving the Board with only months to make a move, and time ticking for Dunn.

“We’re open to a better relationship with Dunn,” he said. “But, I can’t speak for the entire Board on what they are thinking about for the future.”

Monday’s announcement comes only a week after Bonnie Higginson, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs announced her own intentions to retire from her administrative position. Provosts are often considered second-in-command under the president, leaving large questions as to who would temporarily fill Dunn’s shoes, were he to be selected and accept a job elsewhere.

Higginson said it may create an awkward situation in the event Dunn left before the end of the academic year, as Missouri State officials have not been entirely clear as to when they would need their new president. In other words, the University could potentially be seeking a provost and president at the same time – no easy task for a board already plagued by a tightened state and University budget.

Both Dunn and Smart are qualified for the Missouri State position, but each brings a different set of qualities to the table.

Dunn comes from a higher education and governmental background while Smart’s base is in the military and law practice.

Randy Dunn

Prior to being selected Murray State’s 11th president, Dunn served as the state superintendent for the Illinois State Board of Education and before that was a department chair and professor at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. Dunn began his career in academics at the University of Memphis as an assistant professor. His focus in academics has been in education and leadership.

He has also served as a principal in two school districts in Illinois and as the district superintendent of two Illinois school systems.

Dunn received his doctorate in educational administration from the University of Illinois and his masters in administration and foundation at Illinois State.

Clifton Smart III

In 2011, Smart was named the interim president of Missouri State University; prior, he had been general counsel of the university since December of 2007.

Smart has provided legal counsel to the Board of Governors, faculty, staff and administrators. He has also chaired selection committees at the university in which the goal was to appoint a vice president of diversity and inclusion, chief financial officer, director of admissions and men’s basketball coach.

Prior to his positions at Missouri State University, Smart joined The Strong Law Firm in 1992. He has been a shareholder and vice president in the firm since 1998.

His practice consisted of representing individuals involved with injury, medical malpractice and commercial cases.

Smart received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Arkansas School of Law in 1986.

He received the second highest GPA in the school’s history with a 3.95. He also received the Leflar Scholarship and was an Oxford Scholar.

Story by Chris Wilcox, News Editor, and Austin Ramsey, Editor-in-Chief.