The University of Missouri-Kansas City must figure out how to invest in its students, faculty and staff even as state appropriations decline, Chancellor-designate C. Mauli Agrawal says.
Agrawal, who is currently the interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Texas at San Antonio, was on campus Friday to get a better sense of the institution he will soon lead. UM System President Mun Choi announced earlier this week the appointment is effective June 20.
But the work – especially toward building a downtown campus for the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance – will begin immediately. Choi says Agrawal will be involved in conversations about what to do now that a big donor has backed out, and those conversations can’t wait.
“I know we have been facing some headwinds here, but I also see the support we have on campus, not just on campus but in the city, and in the state,” Agrawal says. “I think this will happen in some way or another.”
Agrawal’s prepared remarks focused on student learning and faculty research. He talked about growing up in Allahabad, India, the son of college-educated parents who sacrificed so he could also get a great education. Agrawal was working as an engineer at an automotive company when he decided to come to the United States, earning advanced degrees from Clemson and Duke universities.
“Projections show that the forthcoming increase in college students will come primarily from minorities and underrepresented groups,” Agrawal says. “Often times, the support systems needed to make these students welcome on the campus are very different than what most universities have put in place.”
Agrawal says as more young people graduate, it’s just a fact that some of them will arrive unprepared, and they deserve all the help UMKC can offer without lowering the school's standards. He asked faculty and staff to treat struggling students like they would their own children. Agrawal joked he was about to have 17,000 children – a relief, as he currently has 31,000.
Although Agrawal has been in administration for almost 13 years, he only recently gave up teaching.
“I think of myself primarily as a faculty member,” Agrawal says. “This year is the first time in my career I have not taught a full course.”
One of Agrawal’s accomplishments at UTSA was to bring in more research money for the College of Engineering.
Interim Chancellor Barbara Bichelmeyer will return to her role as provost when Agrawal arrives at UMKC. Enough people expressed surprise that Bichelmeyer was not selected for the job that she sent a note to faculty and staff Wednesday expressing her confidence in Choi’s pick.
“Mauli brings skills and experience that will be invaluable as we work together and with leaders of the campus, the Greater Kansas City community, and the University of Missouri System to create the great university that UMKC deserves to be. ... Let’s not let transitions be a distraction from the focus and discipline we need now. Our priorities are the same today as they were last week, and as they will be next academic year,” Bichelmeyer wrote in an email.
Agrawal confirmed he’d spent several hours with Bichelmeyer when he arrived in Kansas City on Thursday.
“I’m going to tell you something you already know: She is wonderful," Agrawal says.
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Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.