Looking back at León

As the paper of record for Missouri Southern, The Chart takes an abbreviated look back at the tenure of former University President Julio León. The account is drawn mostly from the newspaper’s own pages.

The beginning

León was appointed interim president of Missouri Southern State College on June 29, 1982. At that time, gas was $1.82 a gallon; popular television shows included Magnum, P.I. and Knight Rider; Ronald Reagan was president of the United States and “Jack and Dianne” was a chart-topping song.León was tapped as interim president after the resignation of Dr. Donald Darnton. Darnton resigned June 5, 1982 and continued to serve until June 30, 1982. When León assumed the job, he was found by a former Chart editor while he was trying to be alone. León shared his first thoughts as president.”It’s obviously exciting,” he told just-graduated Chad Stebbins. “I’m aware it’s a tremendous responsibility. I’ll try to do the best job I possibly can.”Stebbins is now a faculty member serving as director of the Institute of International Studies.In the June 30, 1982 edition of The Chart, then-Regent Glenn Wilson said “The strength of the School of Business and León’s leadership there, along with the thrust of the man’s character, were deciding factors.”León ended his University presidency Friday by praising the faculty and began it much the same way.”We are a strong undergraduate school,” he said at the time. “We have the basis for becoming an even better one. The backbone of any institution is its faculty.”All I can do now is pledge that the faculty will have the resources, support and encouragement to do the best possible job.”

The International Mission

On Nov. 30, 1989, Missouri Gov. John Ashcroft spoke to a group of higher education administrators at a conference in Kansas City. Ashcroft challenged at least one state college or university to tackle an international mission. “We have some examples of distinctive missions,” he said. “The University of Missouri-Rolla, with its science an engineering emphasis; Northeast Missouri State University, with its liberal arts emphasis; and Harris-Stowe State College with its teacher education emhasis-but many other possibilities exist.”For example, which Missouri institution might dare to develop a strong international emphasis that would permeate the entire curriculum?”At a June 15, 1990 meeting of the Board of Regents, León answered the governor’s call. “The 21st century is already here,” he said at he time. “We have to prepare our students to deal with a global environment. Hopefully, it will permeate in everything that we teach in the classroom. We think we are on the right track.”In 1990, faculty weighed in on the issue, as well.”I think it’s an extremely bold move for an exceptionally provincial area like southwest Missouri,” said Dr. Conrad Gubera, professor of sociology. “We get a lot of students who haven’t been anywhere whose ideas are local.”It’s bold when you consider who we are and where we are.”Dean of the School of Business Brad Kleindl said at the time that embracing the mission was a good move.”Our students who will be working for these companies will have to be able to understand what it means to operate in a global marketplace,” he said.Another aspect of the mission was foreign languages. Dr. Allen Merriam, professor of communication, was prophetic in his comments at the time.”The timing seems ripe for actually doing it,” he said. “It’s pretty exciting to think that in a couple of years we’ll be offering as many as eight different languages.”The University is offering X languages this semester.

University Status

On July 12, 2003 Gov. Bob Holden signed Senate Bill XXX changing the name of Missouri Southern State College to Missouri Southern State University. At the time, Holden acknowledged the change as a move forward for the institution.”University status better enhances Southern’s ability to compete on a national and global level,” he said. “This is an opportunity for Missouri.”Area lawmakers had tried previously to facilitate the name change, but were unsuccessful. “We started seriously looking at university status in 1995,” León said. “However, the conditions present weren’t as they were this time. All the stars aligned just right this time for this to happen.”

University Expansion

Under León, the campus expanded or planned for expansion by 651,901 square feet totaling more than $85.5 million. Among the capital improvement projects completed under his leadership were both Robert Ellis Young Gymnasium and the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center, Webster Hall, Reynolds Hall and the Dianne Mayes Student Life Center. The proposed health sciences building and student recreation center are still in the planning stages.