Dr. Gary Thomas, chancellor of the University of Missouri-Rolla since September 2000, announced on Sept. 1, 2004, that he will step down from the position in September 2005.
Thomas, 67, announced his plans during a meeting of the UMR Chancellor’s Council, which consists of department chairs, directors and other campus and student leaders. The council met at noon today in Centennial Hall of University Center-East on campus.
The process to search for Thomas’ successor is expected to begin soon.
"When I arrived at UMR in the fall of 2000, I planned to devote five years to help the campus improve its standing among the nation’s best technological universities," Thomas says. "I believe much has been accomplished over the past four years and more progress needs to take place in the future to assure that UMR takes its rightful place as one of the best technological universities in the nation."
As chancellor, Thomas worked to increase UMR’s enrollment, retention and graduation rates, broaden the university’s academic offerings, increase research funding and strengthen relationships with alumni. He also helped secure the two largest private gifts in UMR’s history and initiated construction of two new buildings scheduled to open later this year, all during a time of unprecedented state budget cuts to higher education.
"Gary Thomas was the right leader at the right time for UMR," says Zebulun Nash of Houston, president of the MSM-UMR Alumni Association and site manager for ExxonMobil’s Baytown (Texas) Chemical Plant. "He has done a tremendous job of changing the culture and the environment on campus, all for the better, and is to be commended for addressing systemic issues that have needed to be addressed for a long time.
"From the alumni association’s standpoint, Chancellor Thomas has done yeoman’s work to strengthen relations between alumni and the university," says Nash, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from UMR in 1972. "We will miss him, and will continue to pray for him and his family."
Adds Ron Miller of Sapphire, N.C., president of the UMR Board of Trustees, "Gary Thomas has been an outstanding leader for the University of Missouri-Rolla. He and his leadership team have initiated many necessary changes to help get the university on track toward becoming one of the nation’s leading technological universities. It’s regrettable that Gary has decided to leave UMR at the end of his five-year commitment, but I respect his decision and wish him well in his future endeavors.
"As we look toward the future, it will be critical for the next chancellor to maintain the direction and momentum that Gary has begun," Miller says.
Upon taking the helm at UMR on Sept. 1, 2000, Thomas quickly focused on what he called his "three immediate priorities" as chancellor: "enrollment, enrollment, enrollment." At that time, the student population had been in steady decline since 1993, when on-campus enrollment was at 5,201 and total enrollment (including off-campus enrollment) was 5,681. By the time Thomas arrived, on-campus enrollment had dropped to 4,393, a decline of 808 students, or 15.5 percent since 1993, and total enrollment was 4,748.
Total enrollment for UMR this fall is expected to be close to 5,500 students, an increase of 15.8 percent over the fall 2000 figure. Over the past two years, UMR has instituted an enrollment cap for incoming freshmen engineering students in an effort to better manage enrollment growth during a time of budget reductions. During a three-year recession in Missouri, the annual state appropriation to UMR dropped by $8 million, or 15.4 percent from the $52 million appropriation for the 2000-2001 fiscal year.
To stem UMR’s enrollment decline, the campus broadened its academic offerings and created the School of Management and Information Systems, which offers degrees in business, management, information systems and related programs. UMR also expanded the academic offerings in the campus’ three other academic units, initiated specialized certificate programs, and strengthened transfer programs with community colleges throughout the state.
Other accomplishments include increasing UMR’s six-year graduation rate by 15 percent over the past four years; more than doubling externally funded research expenditures to $35 million in 2004, increasing private donations to the campus, and increasing the number of African-Americans to earn engineering degrees from UMR.
At UMR, Thomas succeeded Dr. John T. Park, who had served as chancellor since March 1992. Previously a provost and professor of electrical and computer engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, Thomas also had served in several academic and administrative posts at NJIT and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. At Stony Brook, his duties included chair of electrical engineering, associate dean of the graduate school, and chair for the Energy Technology Laboratory.
A native of California, Thomas earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley in 1960. He earned his master’s degree in physics and his Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science from UC-Berkeley in 1962 and 1967, respectively.
"Chancellor Thomas’ experienced leadership and expertise have served Missouri’s technological university extremely well," UM System President Elson S. Floyd says. "The University of Missouri-Rolla is a stronger institution as a result of Gary’s contributions in such important areas as research expenditures, federal funding, student enrollment, residential life, and private gifts.
"I have found Gary Thomas to be a genuine pleasure to work with and I will continue to value his wise counsel during the remaining year of his chancellorship."
Floyd announced that he would consult with faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of UMR before appointing a search committee in the coming weeks to begin a nationwide search for Thomas’ successor.