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Richard "Biff" Williams addresses a crowd during a forum in the Plaster Student Union auditorium on Feb. 15.
provided by Missouri State University
Richard "Biff" Williams addresses a crowd during a forum in the Plaster Student Union auditorium on Feb. 15.

New MSU president sets sights on aggressive student recruitment

Richard “Biff” Williams starts this summer after working a decade at Utah Tech University

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The Missouri State University Board of Governors has hired Richard “Biff” Williams as the higher education institution’s next president.

Williams is scheduled to become MSU’s 12th president on July 1, the university announced early this month. He was named among three finalists in January as the successor to Clif Smart, the university’s president since 2011, who is set to retire this summer.

Williams, who served as president of Utah Tech University for nearly 10 years, was chosen over finalists John Jasinski, MSU provost since 2022, and Roger Thompson, vice president for student services and enrollment management at the University of Oregon. Williams exited Utah Tech in January amid interviews at other higher education institutions, according to an announcement from the school. He also was a finalist for the top job at New Mexico State University.

After the announcement at MSU, board Chair Lynn Parman said the search process yielded strong results. The MSU Presidential Search Committee previously received 48 completed applications for the president role through an in-house national search. Eleven candidates were invited for in-person interviews, and after four finalists originally were selected, officials said one withdrew from consideration for personal reasons.

“We had a well-qualified pool of applicants and three exceptionally strong finalists,” MSU board Chair Lynn Parman said.

Williams stood out, in part, because of his 25 years of experience in higher education in roles such as president, provost, dean and faculty member, Parman said.

“I’m very humbled and excited to be able to serve Missouri State University,” Williams said. “I can’t wait to get there.”

In his near decade at Utah Tech, Williams is credited with helping to increase enrollment by more than 40% and adding over 200 academic programs, as well as guiding the school through a name rebranding and a move to Division I athletics.

Williams said enrollment at Utah Tech has increased to over 12,500 students from around 8,000. At MSU, he said pushing the university’s “great brand” will be key in enrollment growth.

“We will definitely need to be aggressive in recruiting students,” he said.

Fall 2023 enrollment at MSU’s Springfield campus was 24,224, which is 166 students below the school record of 24,390 set in 2018, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

Williams said his leadership style is similar to that of Smart, who joined MSU in December 2007 as general counsel after a 20-year legal career. Smart was named interim president in June 2011 and president in October 2012, according to past reporting.

Williams said his goal is to serve as MSU’s president for the long term.

“The university and community is used to having a long-term president,” said the 52-year-old Williams, noting Smart “has left a great legacy.”

“I think he has built a wonderful foundation.”

Williams’ contract with MSU indicates he’ll earn an annual base salary of $475,000. The contract – a copy of which was provided to SBJ – additionally stipulates Williams will receive an annual housing allowance of $50,000, and he’ll be eligible for up to $50,000 in annual incentive payments “based on the achievement of certain metrics” to be agreed upon by him and the board by Aug. 31.

Effective July 1, 2025, Williams’ salary will rise by at least the same percentage increase as across-the-board raises, and the board may approve additional compensation for the president, according to the contract. Williams’ initial contract indicates his employment will continue at least through June 30, 2029.

The board in summer 2023 awarded Smart a 5% raise to bring his base salary to $427,409, according to past reporting.

Williams said his first priority as president will be to meet with key stakeholders.

“I believe in a collaborative administration,” he said. “My first order of business is to meet as many people as possible.”

Williams, who plans to move to Springfield in the coming months, has his bachelor’s degree in lifestyle management from Weber State University, his master’s in athletic training from Indiana State University and his doctorate in curriculum and instruction from New Mexico State University, according to information provided by MSU. Before serving as president of Utah Tech, formerly Dixie State University, Williams’ career included roles as provost and founding dean of the College of Nursing, Health and Human Services at Indiana State.

At Utah Tech, Williams additionally is credited with leading the development of two strategic plans; overseeing the school’s COVID-19 crisis leadership team; creating new space for the Center for Inclusion and Belonging and hiring the school’s first chief diversity officer; increasing women in leadership positions by 54%; and doubling the budget of intercollegiate athletics.

At MSU, Williams said additional capital campaigns would be needed as a follow-up to the university’s Onward Upward initiative that exceeded its $250 million goal.

“In my tenure, we’ll have some capital campaigns,” he said.

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