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MSU’s Smart makes retirement call: Now in final year

School officials say national search for next president will be conducted by internal committee

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Missouri State University President Clif Smart is retiring after leading the school since 2011.

Smart, who turned 63 on Sept. 9, is slated to exit his role in summer 2024, according to a news release.

“It has been my greatest honor to serve as president of Missouri State University,” Smart said in the release. “I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the unyielding dedication and the remarkable passion of our students, faculty and staff. As I approach retirement, I can’t help but smile at the memories we’ve created and the progress we’ve made together.

“This institution will forever hold a special place in my heart, and I’m excited to see how its story continues to unfold.”

Smart joined MSU in December 2007 as general counsel after a 20-year legal career. He was named interim president in June 2011 and president in October 2012, according to past reporting.

MSU plans to conduct a national search for Smart’s successor, according to the release. The search is slated to be managed in-house, with a search committee expected to be named by month’s end.

Zora Mulligan, who last year was hired in a newly created position of executive vice president, the  No. 2 administrative role to Smart after working six years as commissioner of the state Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development, has been viewed as a potential successor, Springfield Business Journal previously reported.

The MSU board this summer OK’d a pay raise for Smart to bring his base salary to $427,409, according to past reporting. Smart’s contract, which is available on MSU’s website through the Office of Internal Audit and Risk Management, indicates he has earned $400,000 in incentive pay for eight years of service. The contract stipulates that he was not eligible to earn retention pay after June 30, 2022, and also gives Smart the right to terminate the agreement for the purpose of retirement, by providing at least 180 days’ notice to the board.

Under Smart’s guidance, MSU completed two comprehensive campaigns to raise a combined $441 million. The most recent capital campaign, called Onward Upward, crossed the finish line in October 2022 with much fanfare.

University leaders secured actor and alumnus John Goodman to chair the Onward Upward campaign, and he was on campus to kick it off four years ago and again at an event celebrating the fundraising tally – roughly $274 million, exceeding its $250 million goal.

Smart’s tenure also was marked by the addition of buildings including the Davis-Harrington Welcome Center and the Magers Health and Wellness Center; the doubling of the number of terminal degree programs; and setting records in state and federal appropriations, private gifts and grant funding, among other accomplishments noted in the release.

Smart begins his final year at MSU by also spearheading the Alliance for Healthcare Education, along with leaders of CoxHealth, Ozarks Technical Community College and Springfield Public Schools. On Aug. 29, the top executives from each institution signed an agreement to form the alliance designed to train health care professionals in the region, ultimately replacing Cox College, according to past reporting.

“Missouri State University has thrived under Clif’s leadership,” Board of Governors Chair Chris Waters said in the release. “He saw us through the very challenging years of the pandemic and has moved the university forward in too many ways to name.”

Fall 2022 enrollment on MSU’s Springfield campus was 23,307, down from 23,618 in 2021 and 24,163 in 2020, according to data on file with the school. The record of 24,390 was set in 2018 – before higher education began facing economic, financial and cultural headwinds in recent years. The official census data for this fall has not yet been released.

When Smart became interim president in 2011, he succeeded James Cofer, who resigned after a year on the job. Smart is the 11th president of MSU, following most recently in the footsteps of Cofer, 2005-10 leader Mike Nietzel and 1993-2005 President John Keiser.

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