Inauguration day, April 18, brought faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members together for a celebration in the Multipurpose Building. In addition to the new president’s inaugural address, this special event in UCM’s nearly 150-year history included guest remarks by Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe and Commissioner of Higher Education Zora Mulligan.

A long list of friends, family and colleagues of Roger J. Best, Ph.D., also shared their thoughts about the new UCM leader and extended their well wishes through a video presentation. In his opening remarks at the gathering, Best spoke candidly about three great honors in his life: his deep faith as a “child of God and recipient of His tremendous grace”; his love and appreciation for his wife, Robin Best, and being a stepfather to “her amazing daughters”; and what an honor it is “to serve as the 16th president of the University of Central Missouri.”

Inauguration Family Robin Best with Daughters

Best, who grew up in Georgia, began his UCM journey in August 1995 as an assistant professor of finance and climbed the faculty ranks to become a professor in 2005. He was named chair of the Department of Economics and Finance in 2003, associate dean of the Harmon College of Business Administration in 2008 and dean of the college in 2010.

Following an extensive restructuring of academic programs, Best began service as dean of the newly formed Harmon College of Business and Professional Studies in 2011. He became interim senior vice president for Finance and Administration in August 2017, and concurrent with a university administrative reorganization, he was appointed as the university’s executive vice president and chief operating officer in January 2018. The Board of Governors named him interim president on Aug. 1, 2018, and president on Nov. 5.

“I suppose in moments such as these it is only natural to consider how we arrived here — what words were spoken, what actions taken, which change the course of one’s life,” Best said in his inauguration speech. “Because, as our mathematics faculty and their students will affirm, only a slight change in degree at the origin will result in a remarkably and significantly different point than the original destination if one travels long enough.”

As a college student, Best had no idea that he would one day provide the caring voice students needed to hear. His positive engagement and its impact on students was highlighted in a video presentation at the inauguration.

 

“When I was an incoming freshman and I went to visit the school, Dr. Best was chair of finance,” said Kayla Vestal, ’11, a graduate of the Harmon College of Business and Professional Studies. “He sat down with me and my parents and just went over the entire major, the classes I would be taking and the opportunities UCM would provide. … He cares about every single student who is attending the university.”

During his radio interview with KOKO’s Marion Woods a day earlier, Best spoke about what it meant to have a university leader show an interest in him as a young faculty member. UCM President Emeritus Ed Elliott met Best in a large gathering on his first day at the university as an assistant professor. While Best may never have anticipated following in Elliott’s footsteps, UCM’s 12th president noticed from day one his potential to listen and lead, and has continued to take an interest in his career.

“So many of us — while the other person is talking — are waiting, shaping our response to what is being said. Roger Best has always been an excellent listener,” said Elliott, who served as president from 1985 to 1999. “He’s a tremendous intellect. He analyzes what has been said, what the options are, discusses it openly. He’s extremely transparent and very kind — qualities that are really, really unique for good leadership.”

With the theme “Milestones,” Best’s inauguration remarks traced some of the university’s accomplishments from its opening on May 10, 1871, as the State Normal School for the Second Normal District to a comprehensive university that in 2019 serves students from across the globe.

“Today, we are considered a military engaged university, we have nationally ranked academic programs, we continue to win national championships in athletic and academic competitions, and our students continue to change the world as alumni and while currently enrolled,” Best said.

Inauguration Best

He stressed the importance of celebrating milestones, and the opportunity to “draw inspiration from where we came from.” “But we must not dwell in the past,” Best cautioned. “We cannot be content with who we are today, for today is simply the culmination of who we have been. Instead, we must look to the future and consider who we will be, because tomorrow’s successes can be … only if we plan for them.”

Best takes over as president at a time when many challenges face higher education institutions. He spoke about issues facing colleges and universities, including the inadequacy of public funding, the inability of the current and next generation of learners to afford advanced education, a societal indifference toward the value of higher education, the perception that higher education employees are underworked and overpaid, increased competition for a declining traditional student base, a changing student demographic and a world where learning occurs in ways not envisioned a few years ago — in which the pace of change is almost too fast to measure.

“And if we were to look beyond today, what will our future constituencies say about this, our season?” he asked. “Will they say we rose to the challenges we face in higher education? Will they say we were more than equal to the challenges specific to UCM? Will they say we moved this institution forward by casting aside no longer relevant constructs and taking advantage of opportunities we saw before us? Or will they say we chose the easy path? … So I ask you today, will you join me on the hard path?”

For students, alumni, colleagues and friends who gathered at a reception in Elliott Student Union following the inauguration ceremony, the answer was clear. They would continue to walk alongside UCM’s new president, paving the path with new milestones along the way.

Be a part of UCM’s future milestones by supporting students today through the first-ever Presidential Endowed Scholarship! Make your gift at ucmfoundation.org/give/mag.

 

 

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