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  • Writer's pictureLucas Nava

NextGen gets $64m in federal funding, Choi says in 'State of the University' address

This story was written in collaboration with Columbia Missourian reporter Mavis Chan and edited by Columbia Missourian Higher Education editor Gordon Dickson. Click on the link to see the original article.


MU President Mun Choi announced Tuesday that $64 million in federal funding has been committed to help pay for construction of the university’s NextGen Precision Health research center.



UM System President Mun Choi gives the "State of the University" address on Tuesday at Jesse Auditorium in Columbia. This was Choi's first "State of the University" address. Photo by Catie Cobble/Missourian.


The NextGen research facility, which opened in October on the MU campus, cost $275.5 million to build — including $61.8 million in expected bond interest payments. NextGen specializes in developing life-changing medical technologies tailored to each patient based on factors such as genetics and lifestyle.


Choi’s remarks came during his “State of the University” address Tuesday in front of about 700 people at Jesse Auditorium. The hour-long event was also streamed live online.


“With the support from legislators at both the state and federal level, last year, we have the highest increase in appropriations in 35 years,” Choi said, touting the university’s sound fiscal shape.


Apart from the federal funding for NextGen Precision Health, Choi said Gov. Mike Parson has “indicated” that this year is the first of three years of investment in MU. The governor has announced a 5.4% core appropriations increase and $104 million for capital projects.


In making his first “State of the University” speech, Choi repeatedly offered what he described as examples of “Mizzou on the Rise.” He spoke about improvements made in student enrollment and graduation rates, especially among people of color.


But expanding funding for research was the prevailing theme.


Investing in research


For example, Choi talked about the new University of Missouri Research Reactor West facility, which will continue work in processing radioisotopes like lutetium-177 for cancer medicine and other research.


This new facility cost $20 million and was expected to be built by 2024. He said the U.S. Department of Energy will fund another $27-million building on campus for similar purposes.


Choi said he was “already in discussions” with the UM System Board of Curators to build the “second-generation nuclear research reactor right here in central Missouri.”


Other large-scale infrastructure projects promoted by Choi included a new Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab and Laboratory for Infectious Disease Research, which will cost around $33 million in total. A sum of $20 million will also be allocated to renovating the Medical Sciences Building.


Apart from facilities, Choi also touted the MizzouForward plan as a “blueprint to transform the institution for the future.”


Attracting award-winning faculty


The plan aims to recruit new faculty members with a focus on research for the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and Department of Energy. As of today, 21 new faculty members have already been hired under this plan.


Of the $1.5 billion: $550 million would be used for recruiting up to 150 faculty and staff by 2026; $500 million for performance-based salary increases aimed at retaining “high-performers” over five years; $75 million for programs aimed at getting faculty and staff to earn more national awards and honors; a total of $300 million for supporting research.


“When we want our faculty and staff to compete nationally with other faculty and staff at AAU institutions, we need to provide them with the resources and the compensation that are comparable,” Choi said. The AAU is the Association of American Universities, an invitation-only group of research universities in the U.S. and Canada.


Choi emphasized the importance of MU faculty and students getting more national awards and honors. The university recently started several new research support programs to give faculty “the tools to succeed.”


These programs include hiring five people whose job would include identifying faculty members who would be eligible for awards. A database and workshops would also be available for faculty members to search for eligible awards.


Specific programs would be available for faculty members in humanities and the social sciences as well. Besides grants and support for mid-career faculty, the provost launched the Great Books Program. According to the Office of the Provost website, this program would allow post-tenure faculty with a book contract to “apply for teaching release for one semester” to complete their books.


Thomas Spencer, vice chancellor for research and economic development, said MizzouForward would “definitely achieve that goal” of doubling research expenditure over five years. Before the plan was implemented, he said MU was in the “lower quartile” in terms of receiving federal research grants among universities like those in the AAU.


Faculty reactions


After the address, MU Faculty Council member Phillip Wood, a psychology professor, said he thought the address was “a very nice talk.” However, he would like to “see more cooperation at the graduate and professional levels across departments.”


The MU chapter of the American Association of University Professors released a statement on Monday in anticipation of the address, saying it hoped President Choi would “offer concrete plans to address the crisis in shared governance at MU.” The group also referenced the resolution passed by a faculty-wide vote in February that gave suggestions for shared governance practices.


When asked about that resolution, Provost Latha Ramchand said MU is “totally in support of shared governance.” She added that the response to the resolution “is being worked on.”


“The president will respond,” she said.


Choi said he hoped to make the “State of the University” address an annual event going forward.

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