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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The yearlong search for a new University of Missouri president is down to a single unnamed finalist.

Flanked by campus police to ensure the confidential process, 13 members of a 20-person advisory panel met in private for more than five hours and interviewed its sole candidate Tuesday in a guarded conference room inside Mizzou Arena. The group of professors, students, campus workers and alumni will make a recommendation to the university’s Board of Curators, which has final approval of the hiring. Curators are scheduled meet later this week in St. Louis but don’t expect to announce a decision.

“We interviewed one candidate,” said Hal Williamson, vice chancellor for the University of Missouri Health System and chairman of the advisory group. “It’s up to the Board of Curators from here.”

The curators are seeking a replacement for Gary Forsee, who stepped down as president in January to care for his wife as she battles cancer. Interim president Steve Owens has said he is not a candidate for the permanent job and expects to resume his duties as general counsel.

Williamson declined to name the remaining candidate, consistent with the confidential search undertaken by the four-campus system’s governing board. Curators’ chairman Warren Erdman did not immediately respond to several telephone messages Tuesday afternoon.

Erdman and his colleagues are no doubt mindful of the previous presidential search, in which Forsee was chosen only after New Jersey businessman Terry Sutter emerged in 2007 as the preferred candidate to replace Elson Floyd, and was publicly identified.

Sutter instead opted to become chief operating officer of a Florida steel manufacturer. Former congressman Kenny Hulshof, a Columbia Republican, also was a finalist during that search but was not offered the job.

Erdman has said there is no timetable for a decision, but university officials are eager to have a new hire in place by January, when lawmakers return to Jefferson City for the annual legislative session.

A strong presence in Jefferson City is seen as critical for the university’s new leader, as the system seeks to reverse — or at least stem— a decade of decreasing public subsidies. Forsee and Gov. Jay Nixon were the chief architects of plan that froze tuition at Missouri’s public colleges and universities for two years in exchange for relatively modest budget cuts in higher education. No such plans are in place for the coming year.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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