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Day in the Life with Clif Smart

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Clif Smart shows his Bear pride from the moment he opens his eyes each morning.

At 6 a.m., the Missouri State University president rises to the sounds of university-licensed NPR radio station KSMU. And after 20 minutes on the elliptical – part of a weight-loss competition with Springfield City Manager Greg Burris and SRC Holdings Corp. CEO Jack Stack – the 54-year-old makes the short drive from his Rountree-area home and settles into the office by 7 a.m.

His third year in the chair, but first full year without the interim title, the president has a 14-hour agenda ahead of him, something he says isn’t uncommon.

“I schedule evening events five out of seven days a week,” he says. “This week I’m headed to the Steak & Steak Dinner, to meet Laura Bush in Marshfield, a Relay kickoff and a birthday party for a board member. Just typical stuff.”

Promptly at 8 a.m., Smart heads into the first of seven meetings today, this one a weekly event with his administrative council. Seated in a circle in the conference room adjacent to his office on the second floor of Carrington Hall, Smart is surround by 16 university vice presidents. Leg tucked under and settled in for the more than two-hour meeting, Smart listens thoughtfully as each vice president gives a report. The group talks upcoming university events, banquets, student fees and the impact of a potential higher education rating system.

“Education is becoming rated out the wazoo, for what advantage we don’t know yet,” Smart says, of a recent Time magazine article on a proposed federal government system.

The group disbands by 10:30 a.m. and Smart sits on his office couch with MSU West Plains Campus Chancellor Drew Bennett for an update on the largest of three MSU branch campuses.

Smart likes Bennett’s idea of adding an orientation for West Plains students who transfer to the main campus and notes he should talk with Vice President of Student Affairs Dee Siscoe about creating something for all intersystem transfer students.

Vice President for Administrative and Information Services Ken McClure is Smart’s third meeting of the day just before he heads to a noon lunch in Plaster Student Union.

It’s a rainy day on campus as Smart walks with his pop-up black umbrella along the wet sidewalks bursting with spring flowers. Every few feet a faculty member, staffer or student waves hello, and Smart cheerfully responds as he makes his way to the Union Club on the PSU’s fourth floor.

The greetings are part of Smart’s charm as president. He says he wants to be approachable to anybody for any reason. His lunch meeting fits that bill.

University seniors Jordan McGee, Addison Reed and Cody Miller await Smart at the top of the staircase – another reason the president is down 7 pounds in the weight loss challenge. The three represent MSU’s incoming student government officers and Smart sits for the first of many monthly meetings with the trio.

The student leaders campaigned on reaching out to more students, and they have myriad ideas, such as expanding student government and an online social media directory mirroring efforts at Oklahoma State University.

“Your twitter presence is an asset over other schools,” says Vice President-elect Reed. “There is often a disconnect between administrators and students.”

His handle, @ClifSmart just crossed the 5,000 follower mark that morning, with about 4,000 of his followers MSU students. Smart says he follows other university presidents, MSU accounts and “funny guys like Jimmy Fallon.” Tweeting at least a couple times each day, Smart calls Twitter his direct line to the student body.

“They hammer me on everything from parking problems to snow days and bad cafeteria food,” he jokes. “But I’ve been known to get a presidential burn in there once and a while.”

It’s 1:30 p.m. now and Smart’s due on the third floor of the PSU for a video shoot to promote student engagement. Standing in a silent room on a large white backdrop, the team wants the president to play up his Twitter presence and suggests he answer an impromptu tweet while speaking.

“You won’t believe this, but I left my phone in my office. Can I borrow one of yours?” he says with a laugh.

Back in the office, Smart has just enough time to check his 200 emails and sign a stack of diplomas for Greenwood Laboratory school before his afternoon meetings. Siscoe and Chief of Staff Paul Kindcaid round out the afternoon before Smart heads back to the Union to give the welcome address at the annual All Faculty Awards luncheon.

It’s 3:20 p.m. and his time at the podium is cut short as Smart rushes out the door for a Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce monthly board meeting. He’s running late for a board conference call with Gov. Jay Nixon to discuss pending income tax reductions.

At 5 p.m. – quitting time – Smart still has a more than three-hour dinner event on the schedule as he represents MSU at the Springfield Public Schools Teacher Appreciation banquet.

With his wife Gail in tow, Smart’s MSU lapel pin continues to tell his tale – Bear pride morning, noon and night.
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