North County Journals | October 16, 2002

Choosing new chancellor important task

Opinion Shaper
by Josh Renaud

Twelve years is a good run.

In December, Blanche Touhill will retire as chancellor of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. It will be the close of an era of incredible expansion at UM-St. Louis under her direction.

Blanche literally changed the look of the campus. During her tenure, UM-St. Louis has added a colossal student center, two new parking garages and a $50 million performing arts center. The latter was Blanche's pet project, and recently the UM-St. Louis Board of Curators announced it will bear her name.

She also got a sweet deal with the Missouri Department of Transportation, benefiting from the realignment of Interstate 70 between Hanley and Lucas and Hunt. When it's all finished, UM-St. Louis will have a new campus entrance, a beautified Florissant Road and land along the interstate to develop a commercial or research park.

Part of Blanche's vision was to open student housing on campus, and she did it. Earlier this year, the university unveiled ambitious plans to add even more housing on 60 acres between the North Campus and Hanley Road.

Of course, Blanche's legacy will be more than buildings. She expanded the university's educational horizons by adding 30 programs and setting up 23 endowed professorships.

She was the queen of wooing, instrumental in bringing the Barnes College of Nursing and the Mercantile Library, the oldest library west of the Mississippi, into the fold.

Blanche's impact has been felt in the community, too. The new programs and buildings on campus mean new opportunities for people in North County. For example, the I-70 realignment will be a catalyst for growth in some areas that have been stagnant for years.

But it hasn't been all peaches and cream. Blanche has her share of detractors, especially among the UM-St. Louis faculty, many of whom fought tooth and nail against the performing arts center and her economic policies.

Some people also opposed Blanche's "war on beautiful architecture." UM-St. Louis is situated in a historic part of St. Louis, surrounded by upscale housing, classic religious buildings and thick wooded areas. As UM-St. Louis has expanded, it has gobbled them up. Religious buildings have either been assimilated by secularization and uglification, or imploded.

Still, UM-St. Louis is in good shape. Despite chronic fiscal belt-tightening, the university is poised to grow and impact St. Louis more. Blanche has done well.

And now, at a crucial point in the university's young life, the choice of her successor is upon us.

The choice belongs to UM System President Manuel Pacheco. Some would argue that Pacheco hasn't done UM-St. Louis many favors. He hasn't increased UM-St. Louis' unfair and inadequate portion of UM funding. Pacheco has shot down attempts to add certain degree programs that would be very beneficial to UM-St. Louis. Pacheco himself is retiring in December. He won't have to deal with UM-St. Louis' next chancellor. How much interest, then, does he really have in this decision?

UM-St. Louis deserves a committed chancellor, not a fly-by-nighter who will use the gig to boost a resume, not a politician with strings attached and not a weakling who will be a puppet for the UM system.

If we want a strong chancellor, we can't afford to stay on the sidelines.

Members of the campus community, and members of the St. Louis community at large, must demand Pacheco give us the power to control our own destiny.

Don't waste any time. Faculty, students, business leaders, elected officials and residents should call Pacheco today.