‘We’re still trying to digest it’

Amye Buckley

The lights were off in Missouri Southern’s office of the president for much of the day Friday. The 8:30 a.m. faculty meeting began with an announcement:”As you know,” said University President Dr. Julio León, “It has been my custom to use the fall conference to speak about academic matters and to try to set the tone for the new academic year, this year it’s for a different reason.”As you probably know I have submitted my resignation to the Board of Governors so that I may retire as president of Missouri Southern State University. After 25 years in the presidency. I think it is the right thing to do and it’s time.”Following León’s announcement there was silence. Many faculty members had expected that León would eventually retire, but this was not the timing they expected.”Nobody really saw it coming,” said Mike Kennedy, assistant professor of biology and faculty liaison to the Board of Governors. “Until we got to the meeting room and saw all the press hanging around, nobody suspected.”Since León’s three-year contract had another year remaining, the time and place of his announcement confused some faculty members.Dwight Douglas, chairman of the Missouri Southern Board of Governors, said the announcement was made in accordance with León’s wishes.”Dr Leon did express to the Board that part of the timing was for the faculty meeting this morning. He has always felt a commitment to this faculty,” Douglas said. “And he wanted to make this announcement to the faculty to honor them and that had as much to do with the timing as anything.”Dr. Beverly Block, department head of marketing for the school of business has been at Southern for 23 years. “He’s the only president that I’ve known here,” Block said. For her, the announcement carried a sense of sadness.”I have worked with him in a lot of different capacities,” Block said. “I think he is a very good man, he’s done a lot for the institution. I think he’ll be missed, so it’s an emotional time.”Leon left to a standing ovation then came an awkward pause, faculty members remained standing, hushed by the enormity of what they had just heard. Dr. Richard McCallum, vice president of academic affairs, took the stage after León’s announcement and in an emotional moment expressed his admiration for the man he has worked with so long.”I stand in awe of Dr. León,” McCallum said. “He mentioned his 25 years as president but we all know that there’s 38 years of commitment because he has dedicated his entire career to this institution.”Southern faculty members may have concern for the future, but with León declaring his intention to retire just days before the semester begins instructors are focused on the immediate future.”Right now it’s carry on with what we know we’ve got to get going next week,” Kennedy said. “Whatever effects are going to come from this are not going to affect the classrooms. We’ve still got to get our classrooms going.”He said faculty members had expressed concern to him that budget appropriations, especially for international trips may be affected.”Right now is when we have to start planning for our trips for next year and Julio was an amazing supporter of that program,” Kennedy said.Future plans aside, Unanswered questions hang in the minds of many faculty members, as they try to say goodbye to a man who has led them for a quarter of a century.”We’re still trying to digest it,” said Wendy McGrane, director of library services. “I think it’s amazing the fingerprint that he has left on the University and all of the progress that we’ve seen under his administration.”