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UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton Announces Retirement

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3

University of Missouri-Kansas City Chancellor Leo Morton on Tuesday announced he plans to retire from his position at the end of the next academic year.

Morton has served as chancellor since 2008. Prior to that appointment he was senior vice president and chief administrative officer for Aquila Inc. and also held positions at AT&T, General Motors and Corning Glass.

In a statement emailed to UMKC staff Tuesday, Morton said being chancellor was "one of the great blessings and privileges" of his life. 

"I hope the record will show that with the tremendous faculty, staff and students at UMKC and this amazing community of supporters, we have managed to do some good while I've been here," Morton says. 

News of Morton's retirement comes abruptly, and he acknowledged as much in his statement.

"There is no question in my mind that UMKC's conversion will take several years," Morton says. "And, quite frankly, that's a time commitment I am not able to make."

Over what will be his final year at UMKC, Morton says he is looking forward to completing projects like the Downtown Arts Campus, Career Development Institute and fundraising for a new engineering lab facility.

The news comes at an unsettled time for higher education in Missouri. The General Assembly passed a budget this year that slashes higher ed spending by 8 percent.  And on the same day Morton announced his retirement, the University of Missouri in Columbia reportedly hired a new permanent chancellor

Morton earned praise from UMKC Faculty Senate chair Gerald Wyckoff, a professor in the School of Biological Sciences. Wyckoff told KCUR's "Up to Date" program Tuesday that Morton has helped the university engage better with the Kansas City community. 

At the same time, he said Morton was a "true advocate for diversity," especially two years ago when racially charged protests rocked Mizzou.  

"It was inspiring to watch him handle that. He managed to rally the faculty, staff, and students around the issues and not avoid them," Wyckoff said. "But hit them head-on and talk about how people felt personally as well as how the institution needs to address them." 

There have been rough patches in Morton's nearly decade long tenure. 

In March, Morton was included as part of a highly critical report by Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway, who says Morton received tens of thousands of dollars in incentive payments for housing and car allowances.

Two years ago, on "Up to Date," Morton had to apologize for a rankings inflation scandalat the Bloch School of Management that led to the school losing four of its top-25 rankings in the Princeton Review. At the time, he said UMKC was "doing everything humanly possibly to ensure that this does not happen again." 

Still, Wyckoff said that was a "pretty minor event on an otherwise stellar record." 

Cody Newill is the digital editor for KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill. Kyle Palmer contributed to this report.

Kyle Palmer is the editor of the Shawnee Mission Post, a digital news outlet serving Northeast Johnson County, Kansas. He previously served as KCUR's news director and morning newscaster.
Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.
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