Becoming President Smart
After 15 years as an attorney, Smart opted for a less chaotic lifestyle and became general counsel for the university. It was then that the university came knocking on his door. Smart says the first time he was offered the job of university president he “actually laughed out loud.” In fact, one of the biggest deciding factors in taking the job was Gail.
“She had to agree for me to do it,” Smart said. “I know people don’t think about it this way but in our view, it’s a ‘we do it together.’ So much of my job is external that if my spouse is not able to or interested in that, my job becomes much harder.”
With their youngest son off to college, the empty-nesters gave it a shot and within eight months, Gail was fully on board. By the time the university asked Smart to apply for the job full-time, the couple was in and there was no turning back.
When Smart stepped into the role, the university was in need of a community leader. Smart’s predecessor had run the university from inside his office and “the result of that was there wasn’t that connection [with the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce] and Ozarks Technical Community College.” With Smart on board, his rapport of long-term connections would give the university an edge to becoming a major player.
Part of this reputation comes with Smart’s new hires. “I think the success that we’ve had is the stability in leadership, and it’s not just me,” Smart said. “It’s in all those critical positions, and then we’ve brought in really good new people of all different ages and races and backgrounds. All of a sudden you have a diverse room of people with different experiences and that helps the old guys do better and think differently.”
“I’ll say, ‘we can look at any position at the University of Missouri and they make two to three times the money we make. I wouldn’t trade a single one of my people for anyone working at the University of Missouri. That’s how good our team is.”
So, About The Football Team
Of all the milestones the university has achieved in Smart’s tenure, the one that remains in limbo is the football program. Smart said that any major American university has a football program, and taking it away would diminish the profile of the university. Not only that, but the football program is used heavily in recruiting both future students. The football program also supports the 340 students in marching band and the music education program, plus the 40 of 100 football players who are paying their way through school.
“There are all sorts of things you lose when you don’t have football, even bad football, and it doesn’t save you any money. In my mind, the goal is to figure out how to be more competitive, not figure out how you’re not going to have it...I am a strong proponent that you need football to be a major university. You just have to figure out how to do it better.”
Even more so, Smart points out that to buy out head football coach Dave Steckel’s contact, it would require charging every student $27. “I don’t think we should do that. I think [Dave Steckel’s] a good football coach and there’s potential to build a good program so we’ll see what happens in the next two years.”
As Smart wrapped up his time on the hot seat, he took some time to touch on some of the major milestones the university has hit in the last few months, including the historic capital campaign, Onward, Upward, and Bill Darr’s recent gift of $6.5 million to fund a magnet school with Springfield Public Schools. In the meantime, Smart said he will continue to be a positive voice on Twitter by promoting both the university and Springfield.