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March 20, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST
He’s personable and outgoing, but don’t let his many lighthearted tweets fool you — R. Bowen Loftin is serious about higher education. He has devoted nearly 40 years of his life to it.
He took office as MU’s 22nd chancellor less than two months ago. Since then, MU has made headlines with controversial events such as the Sasha Menu Courey investigation, Michael Sam announcing he is gay and a structural collapse at University Village that killed Lt. Bruce Britt, a local firefighter.
“He’s had some tough issues to deal with since he’s arrived, and I think he’s dealt with them very well,” says Cathy Scroggs, MU’s vice chancellor for student affairs.
Missouri Student Association President Mason Schara says Loftin is interested in getting to know the students he represents. “He’s very approachable, which I think, when it comes to chancellors, you don’t get very often,” Schara says.
Loftin’s interest in education has been constant over the years, and it’s his dedication to students that allows him to focus on his long-range goals and deal with challenges as they come.
What was your dream job when you were growing up?
At about age 16, I had this crystallizing time when I thought, “I want to be a college professor.” I’m not sure where it came from; probably reading a book gave me an image or an impression that said, “This might fit me.” That was the first time I had clarity about where I wanted to go, and it never really diminished, which is unusual for a teenager, I suspect.
How would you characterize your leadership style?
I try to empower people to do their jobs. I don’t want to do their jobs for them, and that was hard for me to learn. I’m a perfectionist by nature. I like things to be just right. It was a hard transition. When I worked with people at the NASA Johnson Space Center near Houston ... I began to realize I was the least important person in the room, and that’s what I’ve tried to remember. That guides me every day.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I think they’re surprised by the fact that I’m an only child. People have a perception that only children are introverted. Because you don’t have siblings to squabble with or interact with, maybe you don’t have the social skills that would come from that family arrangement. But I’m pretty extroverted. I like people, and I’m fairly easy to get along with, so I don’t think that’s a problem for me.
When you stepped down as president of Texas A&M, you had plans to return to teaching and research. What convinced you to come to MU instead?
I was debating on whether to say yes or not, and that’s when the A&M-Missouri game happened in November. I came here to the game and saw the east side of your stadium was all students, and I thought, “Wow, I never knew that.” Any place else in the SEC or anywhere else, where do the students sit? They’re in the end zone or the corners. That kind of made my decision happen right there. I was pretty close to saying yes anyway, but really I was pushed over the edge by the recognition of how respected students are here. It does give you a sense of the character of the university and its priorities, and my priorities have always been for students.