COLUMBIA (AP) - University of Missouri curators agreed Thursday to hire an executive search firm in the hunt for the four-campus system's next president, saying they will take their time to ensure they find the best possible candidate.
The governing board's nine remaining members voted unanimously to solicit search firms as they seek to replace former Sprint Nextel chief executive Gary Forsee, who stepped down in early January to care for his ill wife. Acting president Steve Owens, the university system's general counsel, has said he is not interested in the permanent job.
The vote Thursday marked the start of what university officials expect to be a six- to 12-month process. And with Owens at the helm, they aren't in a particular rush.
"Having an interim university president who hits the ground running allows us a lot more time to be deliberate," said board chairman Warren Erdman. "It does take some pressure off the search. You don't want the schedule to dictate a poor outcome."
The search process that culminated in Forsee's hiring in late 2007 took about 10 months. Gordon Lamb, another experienced university leader, was interim president during that stretch.
An informal timeline released Thursday indicates that curators expect to begin interviewing candidates in April and May. By then, they hope to be joined by four new members pending one final appointment from Gov. Jay Nixon and approval by state lawmakers.
Nixon announced this week the nominations of Columbia attorney Craig Van Matre, St. Louis businessman David Steward and Cassville attorney Donald Cupps to the 10-member board.
Getting the new members involved in the search is critical, said outgoing curator John Carnahan.
"You need to get them into this process as soon as possible," he said.
As with the 2007 presidential search, curators plan to appoint a 19-member advisory committee of faculty members, alumni and others who would offer suggestions to the board, which has final hiring approval. The advisory committee would also vet finalists for curator consideration.
Members of the public will also be able to weigh in on the presidential search - not about particular comments but instead the desired qualities of the next university leader. A series of seven public forums are planned across the state in early March, with each event featuring at least one curator, a search firm representative and other university officials.