University of Missouri's New Leader Is Classic American Success Story Who Is This Man Pacheco Who'll Take Um's Reins?

Article excerpt

MANUEL PACHECO HAS never cottoned to his office desk in Tucson, a holdover from his predecessor and little more than a table. He misses drawers.

With drawers, he says, you can stow work away when visitors come and present a neat desk.

For almost six years now, he's put up with the drawer-less desk while his staff has repeatedly suggested that he requisition one more to his liking and habits. Nothing doing. "I don't want to spend the money," he says. Forget also about a flashy official car. With his auto allowance, he leases an Acura, two-door and plain white. Is the unassuming president of the University of Arizona and president-elect of the University of Missouri a tightwad? While he ponders the question, his wife, Karen, said to be the more gregarious of the pair, answers for him. "Yes." Emphatically. He beams her way, as if deferring to her superior judgment of him. In the art-filled president's house in Tucson, the Pachecos are talking about their move to Columbia, Mo., where he starts his new job Aug. 1. The timing suits a man who minds the 115-degree summers in this mountain-rimmed dish of desert. Karen Pacheco, a much-moved daughter of an Air Force officer, says she's up for yet another pulling up of stakes. But she'll miss being close to Mexico, where she makes occasional forays to collect pottery, displayed on the fireplace mantle. The pottery will come with her, along with a couple of pieces of antique Southwestern furniture, a few paintings and some Kachina, or Hopi I ndian, dolls. Most of the paintings, antiques and art objects in the house belong to the university and will stay behind. So might the Pachecos' obvious indulgence, their personal Mercedes, which they think might be too showy for mid-Missouri. Manuel Pacheco is making this move as the unanimous choice of the University of Missouri's sometimes fractious Board of Curators. What He Was Up Against Six years ago, he arrived on the Tucson campus - red-brick and red-tile-roof modern with a verdant, palm-lined mall - far less auspiciously. He was added to the list of finalists for the presidency only after Hispanic groups complained that there wasn't a Hispanic candidate. The Board of Regents went on to hire him - on a split vote, eight to three. He was president of the University of Houston's downtown campus then and of the University of Texas at Laredo before that. In the dissenters' eyes, he was farm team, not ready to play in a league as big and complex as the University of Arizona. So Pacheco knew he would have to overcome "a higher level of skepticism" than the average new president. Worse yet, between the time he accepted the job and started it, the state Legislature slashed $40 million from the university's annual $220 million appropriation. The new president arrived announcing an era of austerity. Some programs were cut; others merged. Six hundred jobs out of 10,000 were lost, half of them faculty jobs, most by attrition but some by outright layoff. "These were very unpopular decisions," Pacheco admits. He insists that he made them fairly and deliberately, involving as manypeople as possible in the discussion and analysis. His style is collaborative, not top down, he says. "Decisions don't get made on the spot, and some people interpret that as lack of decisiveness," he says. In a faculty survey made public a year ago, he was put down as weak, ineffective and unavailable. As Pacheco's partisans point out, though, only 20 percent of the faculty bothered to answer the mail-in survey. Doug Canfield, a regents professor of English and comparative culture and literary studies, says he has always found Pacheco approachable and, in a calm way, resolute. Canfield lays much of the faculty distrust of the president to salaries, low on average, and nervousness about job security in today's chancy academic market. "That's where a lot of this hostility (toward Pacheco) comes from," Canfield says. …


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