Tom George is in his final two weeks as chancellor of the University of Missouri–St. Louis after 16 years in that seat.
Last Thursday, he stopped by the studios of St. Louis Public Radio | 90.7 KWMU at UMSL at Grand Center and spoke to “St. Louis on the Air” host Sarah Fenske about –in her words – “the good, the bad and the bittersweet” from his tenure.
Asked to reflect on his biggest accomplishments, George pointed to UMSL’s improved financial footing and the significant capital construction completed during his tenure.
“About $150 million worth – a new optometry patient care center, a new business administration building, a new science complex, a new wellness and recreation center, and fixing up Natural Bridge Road, which cuts right through the center of campus,” George said.
He guided the university through a period of unrest in the St. Louis region in 2014 after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and helped the institution and the surrounding community emerge stronger.
“When Ferguson erupted, we saw it as an opportunity, and we have entities within the university – our College of Education, our Center for Trauma Recovery, psychological counseling services, the Missouri Institute of Mental Health – we went into the Ferguson community and engaged with people,” George said. “Our students got involved and got engaged.”
As he looks to the future, he hopes UMSL will continue to grow.
“We’d like to increase enrollment by about 1,000 students, and we’re working on that,” said George, adding that it will require, “more marketing, probably reaching a big more out of the area of St. Louis, looking at pockets where the disciplines are hot.”
He pointed to UMSL’s new degree programs in cybersecurity as one example.
George and Fenske also talked more generally about challenges in higher education throughout the country, from the prevalence of student debt to the decline in resources for programs in the fine and performing arts.
Fenske asked about his plans for his upcoming retirement.
“I’ve had advice from a lot of people, particularly those that have retired, and what they’ve said is, ‘Back off just a bit. Allow yourself to become totally bored, and then come back on,’” George said. “That’s probably what I’ll do. I’ve been going 24/7 for decades, so just take a little breather of not being 24/7.”
To listen to the full conversation, click here.