Speeches by Dr. Vitter
From commencement to convocation, see a selection of Chancellor Vitter’s speeches and remarks made at events during his tenure at the University of Mississippi.
Universities Studying Slavery Fall Symposium, Presidential Plenary –October 25, 2018
Tougaloo College, Tougaloo, MS
I’m honored to serve on this panel today, especially with such distinguished fellow panelists. I’d like to thank the organizers for hosting this meeting, especially the University of Mississippi Slavery Research Group, whose important work on our campus embodies the principled inquiry that sits at the core of academic freedom. I’d also like to thank Dr. Hogan for inviting me to participate. It’s a tremendous opportunity to advance the conversation about an historical matter of great import to our institutions, our state, and the nation.
Today, I would like to provide a brief history of the University of Mississippi in the context of our relationship with historical slavery. In addition, I’ll share some thoughts about our recent efforts to contextualize historical sites with markers on our campus.
Starting with the founding of the University of Mississippi in 1848, many of the most significant historical moments in the institution’s history are tied to slavery, race, and segregation. In Dr. David Sansing’s history of the university published in honor of the university’s sesquicentennial, he wrote about this aspect and how it informed the creation of the university:
As the sectional crisis deepened and the agitation over slavery intensified, Mississippians developed a siege mentality, formed a closed society, and concluded, “Those opposed to us in principle cannot be entrusted with the education of our sons and daughters.” The founders of the state university understood that education is “the process by which a culture transmits itself across the generations.”
Fast forward to 1962, when a federal appeals court ordered the University of Mississippi to admit its first African-American student, James Meredith. Upon his arrival, a mob of more than 2,000 people rioted, and two people were killed.
As recently as 2014, the university again made national headlines when two former students placed a noose and a flag containing the Confederate battle emblem on the statue that honors James Meredith on the Oxford campus. And there are numerous other examples throughout our history.
While these incidents are not easy to discuss, we remain committed to honest and open dialogue about our distinct and difficult history on slavery, race, and segregation. In fact, as an educational institution, we have a responsibility to teach and foster learning, especially from parts of our history that are painful. And to move forward, we must neither hide from, nor hide, the problems of our past.
We have embraced that approach while, at the same time, making sustained, substantial, and measurable progress toward fostering a more diverse and inclusive campus environment. Today, nearly 24 percent of our students are people of color. One out of every eight UM students is African-American, and the latest ranking showed our percentage of African-American enrollment second-highest among SEC institutions. There is still much to do, and we can do better.
In 2014, the university adopted an action plan, which took an earnest and hard look at how to address race and related issues, as well as how to make our campuses more welcoming and inclusive.
Today, I want to share with you some of our recent efforts that specifically address “offering more history, putting the past into context, telling more of the story of Mississippi’s struggles with slavery, secession, segregation, and their aftermath,” and to do so “without attempts to erase history, even some difficult history.”
The Confederate statue at the entrance to the Oxford campus was one of the first physical sites to be contextualized. The stated purpose of the statue was to honor fallen local Confederate soldiers, but such monuments were often used to promote the “Lost Cause” ideology founded in white supremacy and aimed at the oppression of African-Americans. After extensive review and input, an updated plaque explaining the statue’s place in history was added to the site. The plaque, in honest and forthright language, explains that the monument reminds us:
… that the defeat of the Confederacy actually meant freedom for millions of people. This historic statue is a reminder of the university’s divisive past. Today, the University of Mississippi draws from that past a continuing commitment to open its hallowed halls to all who seek truth, knowledge, and wisdom.
In addition to the statue, we undertook a concerted effort via a formal committee — the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context — to recommend and design physical sites on the Oxford campus that should be contextualized, so as to explain the environment in which they were created or named. In the final report, submitted in July 2017, the committee shared these eloquent words about their work:
Contextualizing the campus reminds us of the enormity and complexity of our shared past. Done correctly, and therefore carefully, contextualization is an additive process, not a subtractive one. The past merits scrutiny, even as it commands respect. Such an engagement with our collective past seeks to clarify, not to obscure. But while facing the past with humility, contextualization calls for honesty on behalf of all who will in the future develop their own relationships with the University. Contextualization therefore looks backward and forward simultaneously, working toward a just and faithful balance between humility and honesty. Those who undertake such work must be mindful of being stewards, transmitting an imperfect knowledge of the past to the imagined understanding of the future.
As a result of this deliberate, thoughtful, and academically-focused endeavor, this past spring, we installed 6 plaques recognizing 9 sites across campus. One of the plaques notes the contributions of enslaved laborers and includes the names of a number of the slaves who performed work at the university. Additionally, the plaque for enslaved laborers includes the following candid language:
Slavery was a system underpinned by exploitation and violence, and they also suffered beatings and other abuses documented in University records. The University of Mississippi today honors the legacy of these enslaved individuals and acknowledges the injustices under which they lived and labored.
These plaques are daily reminders of our obligation to learn from the past and commit to an inclusive future.
Today, I would also like to share an update with you on two additional projects related to our continuing work of contextualizing our campus. Dr. John Neff is leading our efforts on two projects regarding the intersections between the American Civil War and the University, the town of Oxford, and Lafayette County. Those stories, previously untold on our campus, reveal the history of black men and white men … men who wore blue and gray.
Research has presented a new understanding of the cemetery on our campus as well as the hospital that once occupied the campus. A new archeological survey will reveal a more definitive number of graves than previously known. Historical research has also expanded our understanding of who may lie buried in those grounds. What was once a list of about 130 names believed to be interred has now grown to more than 340, largely through the painstaking examination of military service records. The discovery of a hospital register stored in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., will now give us new insight to the men who were cared for on our campus.
We are also undertaking new research into the lives of African-American men of Lafayette County – enslaved men who left the land of their birth to join the Union Army as part of the U.S.C.T., the United States Colored Troops. To date, 17 names have been discovered, with another 26 believed to also have joined from the county. And the same painstaking research into their military service records will hopefully yield the stories of the lives and service. Eventually, our intent is to memorialize those men on our campus.
Both projects have much yet to accomplish, but we are encouraged by our progress to date. We look forward to the day when we will be able to tell the full history of our campus, town, and county, with all the richness and diversity that characterizes our shared past.
In addition to these efforts I’ve highlighted today, work continues naturally as part of the ongoing inquiry and study conducted at UM by faculty, staff, and students through our academic departments and schools and, in particular, through the university’s Slavery Research Group. You will hear from many of our scholars over the next two days.
We recognize that the university’s history provides not only a larger responsibility for providing leadership on issues related to slavery, race, and segregation, but also a larger opportunity. We continue to engage in profoundly important dialogue to more fully understand and articulate our historical truths — so that we can learn from that past and chart a bold course forward for our university and all those we serve.
In closing, I would like to share an excerpt from powerful remarks given by Dr. Neff at the ceremony to unveil the plaques on our campus this past spring. His stirring words get to the heart of why this work matters:
… we are the sum of all our decisions, good and bad, all of those crossroads. We do not shrink from this. We embrace it. We do not shield our embarrassment, we offer it up. We do not deny any part of who we have been, of who we are. We choose to face our past decisions with courage. We own them all, knowing that to do less is to diminish ourselves today, and to hobble our future selves.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here today.
Military Academy Day –October 13, 2018
Jackson Avenue Center
Good morning, and welcome. It’s a pleasure to be here. We’re honored the university is serving as your host site today. I’d like to thank Congressman Trent Kelly’s office for organizing today’s events.
To all of the students here, I commend your interest in learning more about the U.S. Military Academies, and I thank you for your willingness to serve. I wish each of you the best of luck in your pursuit of a spot at one of the academies, which rank among the most distinguished institutions of higher education in our country.
Your presence here today demonstrates that you take your future, and our nation’s future, seriously. I consider those traits to be characteristic of an Ole Miss Rebel. If your path toward higher education takes you along a more traditional route, I hope you’ll consider the University of Mississippi. Here are a few reasons why:
- We’re committed to academic excellence.
- We have an amazing group of faculty who really care about student success.
- Our community values integrity and respect.
- Our campus is consistently recognized as one of the nation’s most beautiful.
- And we’re located in one of America’s great college towns known for being a lot of fun and offering great cultural opportunities.
- Many of Mississippi’s greatest leaders are graduates of the University of Mississippi, including Congressman Kelly, who earned his BA and JD degrees here.
The University of Mississippi a very military-friendly campus — we serve more than 1,400 military-connected students. In February, we opened a Veterans Resource Center that’s dedicated to giving our veterans support, space to study, and a place to find a community based on shared military experience. I’m proud of the recognition we have received for how we support them. We’re an unlimited Yellow Ribbon school, which helps students with 100 percent VA benefits pay the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition. Yellow Ribbon also provides full tuition to veterans who have served at least three years of active duty since 9/11. We offer special parking passes to recipients of the Purple Heart medal. And we have a very active Student Veterans Association, which provides resources, support, and advocacy, and fosters camaraderie.
We also have many educational programs geared toward preparing undergraduates who are interested in serving our government when they graduate. We are home to a distinctive program called the Croft Institute for International Studies. Many of our graduates from this program work in senior roles in government and industry. Topics of study include international politics, trade, national security, and other important issues facing our country.
We also have a Center for Intelligence and Security Studies, known as CISS, which prepares students for careers as intelligence analysts. It offers a minor that teaches critical thinking and briefing skills used by the 16 agencies that comprise the U.S. Intelligence Community.
Finally, we’re home to two Flagship Foreign Language Programs — one in Mandarin Chinese and another in Arabic. These are highly respected, federally funded language programs designed to fill areas of critical need for U.S. security. If you know your long-term career goal is to serve our country, these programs are worth your consideration.
Finally, I encourage you to come to back to Ole Miss for our November 3 game against South Carolina. It’s our military appreciation game, so we’ll have special events honoring our military branches. Our Student Veterans Association has a philanthropy called the Ole Miss Wish, which works with military families to grant wishes to children. Previously, they helped a patient at Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson have a very special day. At the South Carolina game, our Veterans Association will grant another Ole Miss wish. It’s going to be a very moving event. We’ll have several special events at kickoff and halftime to honor each branch of our Armed Forces. The game is also a great opportunity for you to feel the game day energy we’re famous for.
Thank you again for your time and best of luck with your future endeavors. Now, we’ll hear an introduction of special guests from Robert Smith, representative for Congress.
M Partner Community Day of Service –October 13, 2018
Student Union Ballroom
This turnout is amazing! It’s so inspiring to see such enthusiastic volunteers this morning. I know it’s an early start for a weekend, but we commend you for giving your time and energy to serving our M Partner communities of Charleston, Lexington, and New Albany. It’s so rewarding to see this army of students ready to mobilize and embrace this wonderful opportunity to serve. You embody our university’s commitment to community engagement in action.
Let me take a moment to thank a few people here today.
- Katrina Caldwell: Thank you for your tremendous leadership and work over the last year in getting M Partner launched.
- Laura Martin: Congrats on a great job establishing a framework to get our M Partner efforts up and running so that we can cultivate mutually beneficial and collaborative partnerships.
- Michaela Cooper: Fantastic job of coordinating all the details and logistics for today.
- Jarvis Benson: So glad you are joining us today to share a few words about your experience serving as a VISTA Summer Associate in New Albany.
I’m so excited about the experiences you will gain, as well as the measurable impact this event will have upon our M Partner communities. When we first envisioned M Partner in 2016, I challenged our university to “imagine what we can do if we channel the talents of our university — our entire university — to partner with towns and cities — one at a time — to enhance every aspect of community life!” All of you here have transformed that vision into a tangible, living, breathing effort that will begin to make a difference in so many communities. Now, the momentum around M Partner is building. You can see it and feel it — right here, right now — with this Community Day of Service and all of you here. This day is a campus-wide effort designed to fulfill our responsibility to promote healthy and vibrant communities in Mississippi. It’s a foundational pillar and priority of our strategic plan, Flagship Forward. And the university is committed to addressing community challenges and opportunities creatively and collaboratively — it must be a two-way street.
Thank you again for your commitment and your passion for service. Today is just the beginning of all we will accomplish with this tremendous M Partner initiative. Go out today with the knowledge that you are impacting the lives of so many fellow Mississippians — and yours as well! Have fun today and be sure to stay connected with all our M Partner efforts going forward.
Ole Miss Alumni Association Annual Meeting –October 6, 2018
The Inn at Ole Miss, Gertrude C. Ford Ballroom
It’s great to be here! And it’s so great to see many of our passionate Rebs today. With so much energy and commitment, it’s easy to see why Ole Miss is such a special place with extraordinary people!
Every week at our great flagship university is exciting and active. Let me take this week just to give you a sampling. The Department of Music’s Living Music Resource and Prof. Nancy Maria Balach marked the 20th episode of the LMR LIVE interactive talk show. Our Commission on the Status of Women and my wife Sharon hosted a lovely reception at our home in the Carrier House honoring women faculty, staff, and graduate students. Our Schools of Law and Pharmacy co-hosted an educational symposium on a heartbreaking issue facing our state and nation — the opioid crisis. We commemorated the 20th anniversary of the founding of our esteemed Croft Institute for International Studies with a wonderful celebration. And of course, today is Homecoming as we welcome to campus so many alumni and all the great activities that come with it!
I’d also like to take a longer view and share some of the exceptional things happening at the flagship.
- We have more than 23,000 students this year, representing all 50 states and 90 countries for the 4th-highest enrollment in UM history.
- We’re ranked among the top 12 fastest-growing universities in the country by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- We are ranked by the Carnegie Foundation as an R1 Highest Research Activity University — placing us in the top 2 ½ percent of colleges and universities in the U.S.
- Our external research grants on the Oxford campus grew 23% in the last year to $71M.
- All three degree programs in the Patterson School of Accountancy rank among the top 10 in the nation for the eighth consecutive year.
- We were awarded a second national Language Flagship Program — we now have flagship programs in Chinese and Arabic.
- Graduates of our School of Lawwho were first-time takers of the MS Bar Exam passed at a rate of almost 74% for the July 2018 cycle. That rate is substantially higher than the state average of just under 59%.
- We’ve got a number of efforts that will start to see real results toward our goal of creating a Healthier Mississippi including our new medical education building, where weenrolled the largest class in the medical school’s history this fall with 165 first-year medical students, up from 155 last year. And we’re working on a $180M expansion of our renowned Batson Children’s Hospital, designed to care for the youngest Mississippians.
- We generated over $100M in private giving for the seventh year in a row — a big thanks to our incredible alumni and supporters!
- We have $709M in construction recently completed, ongoing, and upcoming.
- For the 10th consecutive year, The Chronicle of Higher Education named UM a “Great College to Work For.”
- We are serving more than 1,400 military-connected students.
- At 84 percent, our student-athletes recorded the highest Graduation Success Rate in school history.
- And we are SEC baseball champions for the eighth time in UM history.
Another area I want to update you on is our strategic plan, Flagship Forward, that we launched last fall. The plan is for the Oxford campus, but also contains for the first time a true university-wide mission and vision statement that encompasses UMMC as well. And it includes several university-wide transformative initiatives. Today, I’d like to share the status on a few exciting initiatives that will make a real difference for our university and around our state!
First, a key part of our never-ending pursuit of academic excellence is a university-wide initiative called Flagship Constellations. Each Constellation includes membership from both Oxford and the Med Center to combine unique insights and expertise from various disciplines. This initiative brings together the most competitive teams of scholars across all of our campuses to tackle some of the biggest challenges of our time in the areas of Community Wellbeing, Disaster Resilience, Brain Wellness, and Big Data. To share one example, our Brain Wellness Constellation is focused on the neuroscience behind disease, injury, & addiction to address issues such as the opioid epidemic.
The next transformative initiative I want to share with you today addresses our responsibility as a flagship university to build Healthy and Vibrant Communities. This past March, we launched an innovative and powerful initiative called M Partner that creates partnerships with MS communities to address core challenges & goals. With M Partner, we saw an opportunity to tap into the talents of our entire university, partner with communities, and make a difference across a broad range of areas.
Coming up on Saturday, October 13, we will hold the M Partner Community Day of Service. We’re sending 150 students, faculty, and staff into our M Partner communities of Charleston, Lexington, and New Albany.
Before I wrap, I want to share a little bit about the ways we’re supporting a very important part of our community — those who so nobly serve our country. We are a military-friendly campus! And we serve more than 1,400 military-connected students with programs like:
- Purple Heart Parking and the opening of the Veterans Resource Center.
- We’re an unlimited Yellow Ribbon school, which helps students with 100% VA benefits to pay the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition. Yellow Ribbon also allows veterans who served at least 3 years of active duty since 9/11 to go to law school for free.
- And this past spring, ourStudent Veterans Association and the Ole Miss Wish philanthropy provided a very special day for Colton, a patient at Batson Children’s Hospital, and his family.
- Coming up in November at halftime of our game against South Carolina, the SVA will grant another Ole Miss Wish. I have the inside scoop that it will be a spectacular and heartwarming presentation. Make sure you are there to share in the special moment!
At the same time, we’ve faced a couple of recent challenges. Universities are dynamic places by design, and we will work through these challenges by adhering to what it means to be an Ole Miss Rebel. An Ole Miss Rebel is a Rebel with a cause. We make a difference as an innovator, a teammate, a champion for others, a mentor, an entrepreneur, a fiercely loyal family member, and a leader. Being an Ole Miss Rebel means we stand up for one another. We do not shy away from difficult discussions. We neither hide from, nor hide, our past. Every voice matters. It means we move forward together with a shared vision for our future. We will always be Ole Miss Rebels! As alumni and passionate supporters, I know these words resonate with all of you, especially as we look to uphold our hospitable and welcoming atmosphere on our campus.
Let me close with a big thanks to all our Ole Miss Rebels here today. I appreciate your time and support. Hotty Toddy and Fins Up, Rebels!
Croft Institute for International Studies 20th Anniversary –October 5, 2018
Good afternoon, and welcome. It’s a pleasure to join you all for this celebration of one of the bright lights of our university.
I’d like to thank Dr. Dinius and all of the organizers of today’s events. For two decades, Croft has been one of our university’s most prestigious, rigorous, and valuable academic programs. In its relatively short history, Croft has enhanced the reputation of our university.
I’d like to thank the Abdalla family for their enduring commitment to Ole Miss through their unprecedented donation of $60 million from the Bancroft Fund. That decision has rippled through our university and enriched the lives of countless students. Those students, in turn, have pursued distinguished academic and career opportunities in the U.S. and around the world. Their successes reflect positively on this university and carry our name to the far corners of the globe.
The fundamental purpose and enduring commitment of the University of Mississippi is the pursuit of academic excellence. In the Flagship Forward strategic plan that we released last fall, Academic Excellence was the first pillar because it has always been, and always will be, our chief priority.
The Croft Institute is a shining example of what we mean by Academic Excellence. What distinguishes Croft? It offers a unique, inter-disciplinary curriculum that demands critical thinking, analytical ability, and more. It’s rigorous, including requirements for foreign language proficiency, study abroad experiences, and experiential learning through internships. It attracts highly competitive, driven students. It’s exactly the kind of academic program we’re dedicated to fostering.
Each pillar in the Flagship Forward plan is supported by a transformative initiative and a set of goals. The first goal within the plan is to “Enhance the Quality of Academic Programs.” How do we do this? We do it by integrating “meaningful, experiential learning opportunities into all undergraduate, professional, and graduate academic programs to attract talented, diverse students and to prepare them for careers as lifelong learners and engaged citizens.”
Another major goal of the plan is to “Educate and Engage Global Citizens.” What does that mean? We want to foster student awareness of international perspectives. We want to create opportunities for our students to interact with people from around the world, both on our campus and abroad.
The educational experience at Croft should come with its own passport because each aspect of the curriculum is like a passport stamp marking the journey that each student takes in becoming a global citizen. By probing the international connections between politics, economics, culture, and more, our students are exposed to the real world that we inhabit. They gain the knowledge needed to thrive — and critical thinking skills that will serve them for a lifetime. Through study abroad experience, students broaden their perspectives and develop foreign language skills that employers need.
These are the kinds of experiences that represent the best of what the University of Mississippi offers its students. These endeavors are enlightening, noble, and exciting. They’re also an asset in supporting and growing our status as a leading institution of higher learning.
Finally, I’d like to say a little bit about the culture of the Croft Institute. At Ole Miss, we’re no strangers to school spirit. Our community is a family, and it’s very supportive. But Croft takes that notion a step further through the level of dedication of its faculty, students, staff, leaders, and supporters, including everyone speaking today. Croft students are very proud of their degrees — and when it comes to academic excellence, student engagement is the key to nurturing a culture that values learning above all else.
Now I’m pleased to turn the floor over to Chancellor Khayat. Robert, you played an essential role in shaping what we see around us and making Ole Miss a “great American University.” Your legacy includes too many fantastic distinctions to name here. Croft is certainly one of the greatest among them. I look forward to hearing your remarks about the formation of the Croft Institute and your leadership in its creation.
Celebrating the Arts Campaign Launch Dinner –September 6, 2018
Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts
I would like to thank Mary Haskell for that introduction and for her tremendous and ongoing support for our university. Before I begin, let me recognize Julia Aubrey and all those involved in planning tonight’s wonderful event. I’d also like to share a heartfelt thank you to our presenters and performers. What a phenomenal evening it has been so far!
We’re so glad all of you joined us tonight in the Sam and Mary Haskell Theatre for the official launch of the Ford Center Forward capital campaign. We hope you are enjoying your backstage experience and are as thrilled as I am that actor Gerald McRaney is serving as the celebrity spokesperson for the Celebration of Arts campaign.
Here at the University of Mississippi, we have embarked upon a bold path to deliver lasting benefits to society through higher education. Every day, we see how the power of higher education transforms lives, communities, and the world. And tonight, we shine the spotlight on the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts and how this magnificent facility serves as an anchor on our campus to support transformation through the cultural arts. It’s no secret that the Ford Center has been one of the gems not only of the Oxford campus, but the state of Mississippi, for 15 years now. It’s truly a world-class arts and entertainment venue.
Most performing arts centers rely upon private contributions from individuals, foundations, corporations, and businesses to sustain operations and programming, and the Gertrude C. Ford Center is no different. University resources can cover salaries and a nominal budget. From there, we are grateful for support from the extremely dedicated Gertrude C. Ford Foundation, Friends of the Ford Center, and other alumni and friends.
Generous supporters provide funds for special appearances or series, as well as programming, advertising, and the array of other costs associated with running this exceptional facility. The Ford Center seeks sponsors for every season to invest in its mission of sustaining the arts as a key component of a comprehensive, flagship university.
I believe everyone here tonight can agree that the arts are a quintessential part of life on a college campus. The performing arts serve as a magnet to attract to our community a diverse array of dynamic, innovative people — not actors, musicians, and dancers, but as well scientists, engineers, visual artists, humanists, social scientists, lawyers, accountants, pharmacists, and journalists. Members of the university community are exposed to cultural opportunities they might not otherwise experience, from literature to music to visual and performing arts. As my wife Sharon reminds me, the arts keep everything vibrant and relevant. The arts provide an enduring legacy that offers insight into ourselves as well as cultures of other times and places.
The arts bring us beauty and joy, expand our thoughts and perceptions, and provide inspiration for the soul. And the real splendor lies in how the countless expressions of art and culture intersect across all disciplines. As a flagship institution, we’re committed to growing the capacity of our extraordinary arts and cultural resources and programs.
This evening, we are unveiling a permanent symbol of the support the Ford Center enjoys and hopes to enjoy going forward — a beautiful visual artwork that celebrates all the arts. It’s now my honor to reveal this special sculpture. The Gertrude C. Ford Foundation, Nancye Starnes, and Mary and Sam Haskell have already made major new contributions to the Ford Center that will be reflected in their names being displayed on portions of this artwork. I ask the Ford Foundation board members and their spouses Gayle and Tom Papa, Cheryl and Stephen Sims, and Helen and John Lewis as well as Nancye, Mary, and Sam to please stand. Please join me in expressing our deepest appreciation to them.
We are seeking other donors to join this campaign, and we will prominently display names upon this significant artwork.
Let me also thank all of you here tonight for your continuing support of our university. Friends of the Ford Center have provided amazing ideas and are investing their time and energy to move the Ford Center forward. With your support, I am confident that we will have a successful campaign.
With my wife Sharon’s assistance in popping the cork, let’s raise our glasses and toast the launch of the Ford Center’s capital campaign “Celebrating the Arts.” Cheers!
The University of Mississippi’s 165th Commencement Morning Convocation –May 12, 2018
Welcome and Remarks at History and Context Plaques Unveiling Ceremony –March 2, 2018
Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts
Welcome! We’re so glad all of you have joined us today to celebrate this important milestone in the life of our great university and to mark the culmination of the tremendous work from the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context. It’s especially rewarding to be here to witness the tangible results from this deliberate, thoughtful, and academically-focused endeavor.
First, I would like to convey my profound thanks to the members of the committee for their exceptional work on this challenging, but very important task for our university. I would also like to recognize the members of the Planning Committee for this event. You have done an extraordinary job of coordinating and implementing today’s event! We truly appreciate all the energy, effort, and thoughtfulness you poured into making this ceremony a wonderful celebration for our campus community.
If you recall, I established the CACHC to address Recommendation 5 of the 2014 action plan, which urged the university to “offer more history, putting the past into context” and to do so “without attempts to erase history, even some difficult history.” As Mississippi’s flagship university, we have long been committed to honest and open dialogue about our history. The work of the CACHC represents that commitment in action — informed by expertise and conducted with respectful candor.
It is not always easy to recognize significant moments while we are in those moments. It can be challenging to tell the story of change and transformation while we are going through it. But we are here today to recognize that this work indeed is a significant moment of change and transformation in the history of our university. And we’re here to honor this moment by sharing our story broadly and in a forthright manner through the six contextualization plaques we’re unveiling today.
In my letter from July 6 last summer to our university community, I shared the CACHC’s final report and the recommendations we would implement including plaques to contextualize Longstreet Hall, George Hall, Lamar Hall, Barnard Observatory, the Tiffany Stained Glass Window in Ventress Hall, and a plaque noting the contributions of enslaved laborers. These plaques are daily reminders of our obligation to learn from the past and commit to an inclusive future. We are especially honored to have student ambassadors here with us today who will share the powerful words from these plaques a little later in the ceremony.
In addition to the six contextualization plaques, we have the remaining tasks to finalize:
- We will seek to rename Vardaman Hall after its renovation is complete in a few years.
- We will clarify that Johnson Commons is named after Paul B. Johnson Sr., by adding “Sr.” to the building name.
- And we have the University Cemetery and a related memorial, for which we will be adding individual gravestones to recognize the sacrifice of each person known to be buried there as well as a marker in an appropriate location to recognize the African American men from Lafayette County who served in the Civil War in the U.S. Colored Troops.
- As an educational institution, we have a responsibility to teach and foster learning, especially from parts of our history that are painful. All these outcomes emanating from the CACHC process remind us that to move forward as a community, we must neither hide from nor hide the problems of our past.
It is now my honor to introduce our keynote speaker, Dr. John Neff, associate professor of history and director of the Center for Civil War Research. Upon completion of his Ph.D. from the University of California, Riverside, Dr. Neff joined the UM faculty in 1999 with a research and teaching focus in Civil War memory. In 2005, he published his first book titled Honoring the Civil War Dead: Commemoration and the Problem of Reconciliation.
Dr. Neff has been widely recognized for his teaching excellence. In 2005, he was named the College of Liberal Arts Teacher of the Year. And in 2009, he received the Elsie B. Hood Outstanding Teacher Award.
Along with Associate Director Dr. April Holm, as director of the Center for Civil War Research, Dr. Neff is responsible for hosting the Annual Conference on the Civil War, awarding the Wiley-Silver prize for the best book published on the Civil War era, and organizing the Burnham Lecture, which brings distinguished scholars of the Civil War era to campus to share their work.
Especially notable for today’s ceremony, Dr. Neff served as a member of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context as well as the Planning Committee responsible for today’s event. Dr. Neff, we really appreciate your service on both these committees, and we are so pleased to have you as our keynote speaker. Please help me in welcoming Dr. Neff.
Remarks at the 2017 End of Fall Semester Faculty Meeting –December 8, 2017
Welcome! I am so glad to be here today with all of you. This semester has certainly been full of achievements and momentum, but we have also faced some great challenges — and I want to talk about both aspects today.
What strikes me most as I am completing my second year as chancellor is how the University of Mississippi community always comes together — whether in times of celebration or in the face of adversity.
Let me take a moment to recap some of the highlights of the semester:
- We have the largest overall enrollment in Mississippi.
- We were 10th fastest growing public doctoral institution in U.S. according to the Chronicle of Higher Ed’s 2017 Almanac.
- This year’s freshman class had the highest ever entering GPA of 3.59.
- We were named a “Great College to Work For” by the Chronicle of Higher Ed for the 9th consecutive year.
- We surpassed $100 million in private giving for the 6th year in a row; we just completed our two best years ever.
- We’re investing $1 billion in our infrastructure on all campuses, including $400 million here on the Oxford campus alone (excluding athletics) to improve our physical infrastructure in support of academics and student life.
- Our biggest-ever project on the Oxford campus — our new science building — will be a game changer and begin construction this coming year.
- And we continue to create events and opportunities to showcase you, our students, our impact, and our vision for the future — all aimed at generating support for your work in discovery, learning, and engagement.
One such event is the 2nd Annual Tech Summit we hosted in August with industry, government, and academic leaders. This event aligns perfectly with our focus upon stimulating world-class research that drives innovation as well as preparing the next generation of students as lifelong learners who will make an impact in a technology-driven world.
We were very honored to have Silicon Valley icon Jim Clarke as our featured speaker. And as part of a new Center for Global Communications, Globalstar’s CEO Jay Monroe announced that they would install a satellite base station here on campus, one of only two for them in the nation, which will provide opportunities for research and education and attract new corporate partners. We’re seeing tangible outcomes from just the first two of these summits and expect to see many more long-term partnerships develop and flourish going forward.
In October, we held our second annual Town Hall meeting, with hundreds of faculty, staff, and students participating. One of the significant activities there included the unveiling of our new Strategic Plan, Flagship Forward. I urge you to get your very own copy — they are in high demand and we can barely keep them in stock! Very hot commodity for your coffee table collection! We have a sign-up sheet in the back for you to receive a copy.
Let me take a moment to thank Noel Wilkin and the Strategic Planning Council for their leadership spearheading that effort. While this plan is for the Oxford and regional campuses, what I am most excited about are its university-wide elements — including for the first time ever, a mission and vision for entire university. This new strategic plan envisions a future made possible by synergies across the entire university.
The plan is supported by four pillars:
- Academic excellence
- Building healthy and vibrant communities
- People, Places, and Resources
- Athletics excellence
The first three pillars highlight a major university-wide transformative initiative. For academic excellence, the transformative initiative is about Flagship Constellations. In November, we held the debut of our first four Flagship Constellations:
- Community Wellbeing
- Disaster Resilience
- Brain Wellness
- Big Data
It was an exceptional event that included an announcement of a $1 million seed gift from Tommy and Jim Duff to create the Ernest R. Duff Flagship Constellation Fund in honor of their father, a former ASB president. The Duff gift reflects how this concept resonates with people — multidisciplinary teams working together to solve grand challenges. It will be a great recruiting mechanism and fundraising vehicle that will lead to many exciting developments and reaffirm our status as a Carnegie R1 institution.
For the pillar on building healthy and vibrant communities, the transformative initiative we will launch in early 2018 is M Partner. We are looking forward to announcing the initial pilot communities who will be our partners. It will be an opportunity for faculty, staff, and students across all the fields of the entire university to collaborate with community leaders and create a vibrant and sustainable community.
These two transformative initiatives are great examples of how — working together — we can capitalize upon the synergy across all of our campuses and position ourselves for greater success and impact as a Carnegie R1 institution. Imagine what we can do!
Our strategic plan states very clearly that we can only achieve what we imagine if we have great people, and the key to having great people is to have a diverse environment where people feel a sense of community and common purpose.
To accomplish our goals requires that we work as a team, as a community, and that we recognize and value that diversity of opinion and perspective. To accomplish “all that we imagine” also means that there may be disagreement on how to accomplish some of our goals or that there may be disagreement on how to measure success. There may even be disagreement on some of the goals themselves.
But to be clear, we do not and will not disagree on these key principles: that everyone is important, every voice matters, every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and every conversation — even arguments and disagreements — should be civil and respectful.
As a great flagship university, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to model respect and civil dialogue on the important issues of our time. We must avoid the destructive partisan bickering we see far too often on TV and around our country and world.
Wouldn’t it be great if our graduates modeled how to work effectively together; if they set an example of how to find commonalities that move society forward, not divide people, which sets us backwards. Commonalities and mutual respect are what will ensure lasting solutions to our shared challenges. It all begins with us and our commitment to work together with civility and respect.
Some of the recent challenges we’ve been working on include the tax bill, DACA, Title IX, and race relations. As an example, we have been working diligently with our Federal delegation to reverse provisions in the tax bill that would negatively impact higher education and our students. We hosted 50 staffers from our Federal delegation here in Oxford a few weeks ago. We have even helped the rest of the broader higher education community in the U.S. by assisting the APLU in its lobbying efforts.
Fortunately, the Senate version of the bill maintains several provisions in the tax code that are favorable to higher education and to our students, including tuition waivers, employer-provided tuition assistance, Lifetime Learning Credit, and Student Loan Interest Deduction.
As the bill goes to conference, we will continue to monitor it and to communicate with our delegation the importance of addressing the provisions that affect us and our students.
We have also communicated to our Federal delegation our concerns related to proposed or implemented changes to DACA and Title IX. Our government relations team will continue to monitor proposed legislation and communicate any concerns we have to the appropriate staff. Our Title IX efforts here at UM are regarded by state legislative groups as a model statewide.
Our approach is to focus on the outcomes we hope to achieve, not on being recognized publicly for the effort. That means that often the work is personal, face-to-face — not making public proclamations.
As chancellor of this great university, one of my major personal goals is to create a welcoming and supportive environment. We must promote strategies and actions that are ultimately best for the entire university community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni. A key component is a culture of inclusion, respect, and civility.
Our university has made great strides — perhaps more than any other institution because of how far we’ve had to come. We recognize the problems of our past and use them as teaching moments to bring forward our entire community and uphold a welcoming campus.
I am personally committed to the principles of inclusion, respect, and civility, and as chancellor I will ensure these are our institutional values as well. Let me be clear — this means that no legislation — whether it is HB1523 or anything else — will shake our resolve to provide the full support, love, and respect every member of our community deserves. No hate groups will divide us. No issue will sway us from our mission to educate. And no challenge will be too big for us to face — as long as we face it together.
We have several events coming up that will help us accomplish our goal of upholding a welcoming and caring culture. Earlier this week, we announced that we are hosting a celebration of our contextualization efforts on March 2, at the conclusion of Black History Month. This event is aimed at providing the broad university community and the public the opportunity to honor and celebrate the tremendous results of the work of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context. And the very next week, on March 8, Dr. Katrina Caldwell, our vice chancellor for diversity & community engagement, will host a diversity summit on campus.
When I interviewed for chancellor two years ago, I emphasized a way to enhance diversity in our faculty and staff by focusing on excellence, through a program we called “Hiring for Excellence.” Diversity and excellence go hand in hand. By hiring the very best people, we can increase our diversity.
I’m happy to say that we will have an expert on the topic here in the coming calendar year to hold workshops and jumpstart our efforts. When we foster a supportive, empowering diverse environment, it results in a more vibrant, dynamic, and successful university. Diversity makes us stronger as a community. Diversity makes our ideas better and our approaches more effective. And diversity makes our results more robust and our relationships deeper.
Another key goal for diversity, especially in today’s global society, is to increase our global presence and enhance cultural understanding. We are committed to increasing study abroad rates, and on this campus we will increase the international flavor by doubling our international student enrollment. The many members of our international community enrich our Flagship university and add great value.
To this end, the IHL recently approved an exciting agreement with Shorelight Education to work with our Office of Global Engagement and the Office of the Provost to support the recruitment, retention, and success of international students at UM, as well as elevate the global presence of the university.
I also want to share that we must continue to strengthen our connection and synergy with our Medical Center — it makes us a stronger university. Flagship Constellations and M Partner are good examples. Because of our strengthened position as one university and our solid relationship with the IHL and the legislature, we have reaped important benefits such as Carnegie R1 status, the Health Care Collaboration Act, Children’s Hospital expansion, and State bond funding. Together, we are stronger. Together, our outcomes are better. And together, our transformational impact is more powerful.
As I come to a close, I want to state that we are committed to these key initiatives, as well managing our resources prudently and building financial stability in a time of declining state funding. Enhancing our resources and financial stability is particularly important in supporting faculty & graduate students to build upon our Carnegie R1 status, increasing research across all campuses, and providing exceptional educational opportunities for our students. We will undertake a major fundraising effort to increase the resources we need to be successful and achieve the transformative impact we envision.
We have come a long way and have tremendous momentum — and yet we still have so much more to accomplish! And accomplish it we will. We’ll keep working hard, being entrepreneurial, and seeking to bring people together.
At this time of year, in that regard, I’m especially thankful for each and every one of you and the impact of your work, for our community as a whole, and for our drive to excel. I wish each of you a peaceful and restful holiday season!
Update on NCAA Investigation –December 1, 2017
2017 State of the University Address –October 11, 2017
The Inn at Ole Miss, Gertrude C. Ford Ballroom
Thank you, David, for the introduction. And thank you so much for helping us facilitate our event today. You have such strong ties to Ole Miss, and we really appreciate all you do for the university. I especially want to thank you and your wife Kent for your passionate leadership in establishing the William Magee Center for Wellness Education.
Welcome everyone! And thanks for coming! I would like to extend a warm welcome to a few guests we have with us today from the Oxford community: the Honorable Robyn Tannehill, Mayor of Oxford, Gregory Alston (former ASB president and Law School president) from Sen. Cochran’s office, and Mark Huelse, Alderman Ward II. We are truly lucky to have such a great town-n-gown relationship. And we are fortunate to have advocates of the caliber of Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, Rep. Trent Kelly, and other members of our federal, state, and local delegations.
Today’s event provides an excellent opportunity for us to gather as a university community. It allows us to share all the great things happening on our campuses. It also gives us a great venue to exchange ideas about how we continue developing plans for our future so that we can fully harness the transformative power of higher education.
It is especially rewarding to me that we are building upon the success of last year’s first-ever, university wide Town Hall. As Abraham Lincoln said, “the best way to predict the future is to create it.” I know you will be as excited as I am when Provost Wilkin unveils the university’s new Strategic Plan later today — a plan that is a direct result of all the amazing ideas and feedback you shared during last year’s Town Hall. And for that reason, there couldn’t be a better venue to launch our Strategic Plan than today’s 2nd annual Town Hall!
As chancellor, it is my honor today to give the State of the University. Over and over, since Sharon and I arrived in January 2016, we are reminded daily that this university is a special place, with extraordinary people, and tremendous offerings and opportunities. From our deep tradition of academic excellence to our supportive family atmosphere, from our dedicated staff to our award-winning faculty, from our beautiful campuses to our exciting athletic venues, and from our passionate alumni to our dynamic, active student body, we truly are a flagship university.
In my investiture speech last November, I urged the Ole Miss family to imagine what we can do and how far we can go. I shared how we are standing atop a peak in our history, and, from where we now stand, we can see higher peaks. To reach those peaks, we must continue having the important conversations about, “How do we go from great to greater?” and “How will we get there?”
No doubt you are now familiar with the four pillars that emerged from the Flagship Forum last year, which was a 100-day listening and learning tour. The four resonating themes became our four pillars:
- Academic excellence,
- Healthy and vibrant communities,
- People, places, and resources, and
- Athletics excellence.
As you see around the room on the boards and as you will hear during Dr. Wilkin’s presentation of the Strategic Plan, our roadmap into the future focuses upon these four pillars. Today, I want to share with you some of the achievements and successes in each of the pillar areas.
As an institution of higher learning, academic excellence is always first and foremost. Every day, we see evidence of our academic excellence across all our campuses.
- We are Mississippi’s only Carnegie R1 highest research activity university, putting us in the top 2.5% of colleges and universities in the U.S.
- This year’s freshman class has the highest ever entering GPA of 3.59.
- And not only do we lead the state in enrollment with 23,780 students, we are listed as the 10th fastest growing public doctoral institution in the country in the Chronicle of Higher Ed’s 2017 Almanac.
- All three degree programs in the Patterson School of Accountancy are ranked number 8 in the nation by the Public Accounting Report, with the master’s program being the top-ranked program in the SEC.
- Our Sally McDonnel Barksdale Honors College — a crown jewel of our university and what I truly believe is the best honors college in the nation — is celebrating 20 years old.
- And we are continuing to grow our academic excellence, including our brand new Biomedical Engineering degree being offered in the School of Engineering with an inaugural class of 54 students with an average ACT of 30.9!
If you recently heard about the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Physics, you know that faculty and researchers in our physics department have been an integral part of the international LIGO collaboration that contributed to that work. What an honor it is for the University of Mississippi to have played a part in such astounding breakthroughs and now the Nobel Prize in Physics!
Let me quickly share a major initiative we have undertaken to enhance our research excellence. This year, we established the Flagship Constellations research initiative to find new, meaningful solutions to the grand challenges affecting not only Mississippi communities, but the world. The inaugural four Constellations consist of cross-disciplinary teams of thought leaders from the Oxford and Medical Center campuses to address the grand challenges of:
- Community Wellbeing,
- Disaster Resilience,
- Brain Wellness, and
- Big Data.
Be on the lookout for information about an upcoming event on November 17th to highlight our Flagship Constellations.
We have quite a list of achievements! And we just recently made an exceptional appointment to help ensure that we continue to enhance and expand our academic excellence. So let me take a moment to say congratulations to Dr. Noel Wilkin, who was named Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs last month.
As a university, an important part of our mission is to improve our communities, and we accomplish this through our next pillar — building healthy and vibrant communities. At Ole Miss, we impact lives and communities from across the street to around the globe. With the state’s only academic medical center, we are committed to keeping our communities healthier. Take for example, our new Bower School of Population Health. Only the third of its kind in the country, the Bower School will transform healthcare practice and delivery in Mississippi and beyond.
In keeping with our Med Center campus accomplishments, we recently opened our new 151,000 square-foot School of Medicine, which will have a tremendous impact on addressing the need for more doctors in Mississippi. And just last week, UMMC was recognized as a model for national telehealth expansion by being designated one of only two Telehealth Centers of Excellence in the nation by the Federal Health Resources and Services Administration.
We also recognize that building healthy and vibrant communities means having a deep commitment to serving others with our unique talents and innovations that have the ability to transform the quality of life of all Mississippians. One of the ways the university has committed to expanding our impact is the hiring a Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Community Engagement — Dr. Katrina Caldwell — whom we welcomed to the university in January. Let’s recognize Dr. Caldwell.
Under this community umbrella, we are preparing in January to launch another major initiative called MPartner, in which the university will partner with towns and cities around the state — one at a time — to enhance every aspect of community life. Through MPartner, we will help find solutions to community challenges and exploit opportunities by matching the creativity and talent from across our entire university with that of the community, ranging from medicine and population health, science and engineering, the humanities, business and entrepreneurship, and education, arts and culture, journalism and media, and law and public policy. Be on the lookout in the coming year for more about M Partner.
The third pillar is people, places, and resources, which enables success in the prior two pillars. How do we judge success in this category? How about the fact that we have been named a “Great University to Work For” by the Chronicle of Higher Ed for 9 years in a row or our Purple Heart University designation as a military friendly university? How about the fact that our passionate alumni and friends have given more than $100 million each year for the last six years and we have recently hired Dr. Charlotte Parks, our first ever Vice Chancellor of Development, to lead us to even greater heights in this area?
What about the more than $1 billion in construction, going back two years and including what we’re about to start, including our recent purchase of the Baptist Hospital here in Oxford to support the growth and space needs of the main campus, a new 1,500-space residential garage, the renovated Gillom Women’s Sports Center, and the expanded Student Union. We are also working on a $32 million project on the south end of campus that includes a new recreation center and transportation hub. And we have a $23.5 million renovation and expansion of GHM (Garland, Hedleston, and Mayes halls), which will provide a new home for the School of Applied Sciences and new classrooms. Major new construction at UMMC include the Medical School, Translational Research, and Children’s Hospital. And our largest Oxford project ever — $140M STEM Building — will be a game changer for our students.
All these accolades and enhancements promote our academic goals, help us extend our reach and impact, and enhance our ability to attract the best and brightest into MS and to keep the best and brightest in MS.
Our fourth pillar is athletics excellence. Athletics serves as the ‘front porch’ of the university, playing a very important role in bringing people to our beautiful campus, where they can experience the full richness of our extraordinary comprehensive university. This past year was a banner year with our Rebel athletes achieving their highest cumulative semester GPA in recorded history with a 3.01. More than 50 percent of our student-athletes earned a spot on the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll for a 3.00 GPA or better. And 25 student-athletes recorded a perfect 4.0. Also, Ole Miss recorded its highest Graduation Success Rate in school history at 81% — well above the university average.
Athletics is a central part of the university’s overall mission of educating the next generation of leaders. We pride ourselves in providing exceptional opportunities for our student-athletes to benefit from the discipline, leadership, teamwork, and camaraderie gained by competing in the SEC.
And along the way, they deliver thrilling performances. How about the Ole Miss softball team bringing home the SEC championship? Or Braden Thornberry winning our first-ever NCAA individual golf national championship and winning the Haskins Award, the Heisman trophy for golf! And how about our women’s cross country team being ranked #12 in the country!
Most recently, we have seen the unifying role that athletics can have on our university, with our student government leading an effort to have a more widely-embraced mascot. As you learned last Friday, we are moving forward with the Landshark as a mascot that unifies, inspires, and depicts the positive spirit and strength of our athletic teams and our student athletes. I want to give a big Fins Up! to the ASB and all our students for their passionate leadership, and to our students, alumni, faculty, and staff for their enthusiastic support!
Let me quickly update you on two other items of great interest to our university community. The first is our on-going commitment to becoming a national leader in STEM education. This commitment is reflected in the new STEM building — our largest building project to date on the Oxford campus — and our Gates Foundation-funded PLATO project. It is also reflected in our recent hosting of the 2nd Annual Tech Summit on the Oxford campus with industry and government leaders. These efforts are imperative as we continue our focus upon stimulating world-class research that drives innovation as well as preparing the next generation of students as lifelong learners who will make an impact in a technology-driven world.
And this past summer, the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context concluded their thorough and scholarly 15-month long process. In fact, their work was part of a larger study lasting more than four years that included the 2014 Action Plan, which urged the university to “offer more history, putting the past into context” and to do so “without attempts to erase history, even some difficult history.” The result of this process is that we are adding contextualization plaques and markers to nine additional sites on campus. Since one building’s namesake (namely, Vardaman Hall) was judged to be exceptionally at odds with the values of the time, we will seek to rename it.
As an educational institution, we were guided in this effort by our overriding responsibility to teach and foster learning, especially from parts of our history that are painful. Contextualization was determined by the community to be the most effective approach to achieve this goal. I greatly appreciate the efforts of the committee for their scholarly and fact-focused work. I also appreciate all the members of our university, including the broad network of alumni and friends, who took time to provide us their input, whether it was through our online portal or in person at our listening sessions. The process represents a committed effort to recognize our university’s troubled history and to learn from it so that we can be a bright beacon of opportunity — to transform lives, communities, and the world.
Before I close, I want to share what I’ve learned it means to be an Ole Miss Rebel. We — and only we — control the meaning of Ole Miss Rebel. An Ole Miss Rebel is a Rebel with a cause, to make a difference in our work as an innovator, a mentor, a teacher, a teammate, a caregiver, a champion for others, a fiercely loyal family member, an entrepreneur, a trend setter, a leader. That’s our meaning of Ole Miss Rebel.
When we look at the world around us and the many challenges we face, we recognize the responsibilities we have as Ole Miss Rebels and as members of the state’s flagship university.
Being an Ole Miss Rebel means we stand up for one another, it means we do not shy away from difficult discussions, we neither hide from nor hide our past, it means every voice matters, and it means we move forward together with a shared vision for our future.
I want to conclude my remarks today by sharing a short 30-second video narrated by Morgan Freeman that illustrates our commitment to excellence in all we do and what it means to be an Ole Miss Rebel.
Remarks at the 2017 Fall Faculty Meeting –August 25, 2017
Good afternoon! I am so pleased to be ushering in another academic year. It is truly an honor to serve as your chancellor and as a faculty colleague. Last Friday, I had the opportunity to welcome our new faculty members, but let me extend my welcome again as they join us today for their first full faculty meeting. And I am also particularly pleased to welcome back all our veteran faculty.
Finally, I would like to take a moment to commend all faculty members who have been promoted or awarded tenure. Congratulations! Your commitment and accomplishments are deeply appreciated.
First, I’d like to tell you about a few new programs and upcoming events. One very exciting initiative I’m happy to announce is our Flagship Constellations program. The Flagship Constellations are four research clusters that include collaborators from our Oxford campus and the Medical Center. You’ll be hearing a great deal more about this initiative this semester.
The goal of the program is to accelerate and inspire solutions to some of the world’s most complex challenges — where no one field has all the answers, and it’s important to bring together people from many different academic backgrounds. We are doing so by forming innovative, cross-disciplinary research clusters — called Flagship Constellations. These are open for anyone can join. Let me repeat for emphasis: These are open invitation groups and anyone can join. In fact, I encourage all of you to learn more about the Flagship Constellations and see if there is one you might like to be involved in:
- Community Vitality
- Disaster Resilience
- Brain Wellness
- Big Data
For new faculty, this is a superb way to meet colleagues, gain new insights that may apply to your field, to be inspired, and to inspire others. For faculty who have been around a bit longer, this is a way to bring your expertise to a problem and explore new perspectives. The Flagship Constellations are already underway, and we’re planning a big event to highlight them on Friday, November 17. Be on the lookout for more details.
On the topic of research, I encourage you to attend the Research Reception immediately following this meeting. The reception will be held right after this Faculty Meeting in the Studio Theater in this building. I encourage you take advantage of an opportunity to mingle with your colleagues and learn more about the outstanding research enterprise that has earned us CarnegieR-1 highest research activity status.
A big event coming up next week is our 2nd Annual Technology Summit. This-coming Wednesday, August 30, the Tech Summit will bring together leaders from government, business, and higher education to explore trends in technology and to stimulate discussions about technology-related needs in industry and education. Last year’s event led to the Flagship Constellation on Big Data.
I encourage you to come and listen to the conversations. We’ll have some very exciting technology leaders joining us, including:
- Keynote Speaker Jim Clark, Founder of Silicon Graphics and an icon in Silicon Valley,
- Guest Speaker Nicholas Degani, Senior Counsel at the FCC,
- Our own U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, Chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and
- Jim Barksdale, a technology business leader and visionary, and a major supporter of the university and champion for education in the state.
Another event I’d like to mention is our second annual Town Hall, to be held later this semester on October 11. At the Town Hall, we’ll unroll our UM-Oxford detailed strategic plan. For those of you that participated in last year’s Town Hall, the strategic plan was greatly informed by the more than 550 ideas you shared with us — thank you! The Strategic Planning Council has been hard at work to set strategic goals and identify initiatives that will contribute to our mission of transforming lives, communities, and the world.
I encourage you to attend this year’s Town Hall, interact with other members of our university community, and lend your voice to the dynamic, interactive conversations. At the Town Hall, you will also hear about our strategic planning on two key goals:
- Achieving ever-greater academic excellence,
- Building healthy and vibrant communities — here in Mississippi, in the U.S., and around the world.
We can reach these goals with the help of two key enabler goals:
- People, place, and resources, such as ensuring we can recruit and retain the very best people to be a part of our UM community.
- Athletics excellence, which creates a national brand and brings people to Ole Miss.
It is vitally important that we offer opportunities to engage in ways to move forward toward our vision as a flagship public international research university. Please participate in these important conversations and encourage your staff, colleagues, and students to do so as well.
Let me also tell you about another new initiative — this one focused on fulfilling our flagship responsibility for transforming communities through scholarly engagement. Our MPartner initiative is going to channel the talents of the entire university and partner with towns and cities around our state — one at a time — to enhance every aspect of community life. We will collaborate with communities and partners on joint projects — harnessing the full range of our university’s talents, expertise, and strengths. MPartner is currently in the initial planning stages with an expected launch in January, so you’ll hear more about it this fall.
Let me share about some of the construction projects on the Oxford campus.
- The Chucky Mullins roundabout, which will improve traffic flow on the south side of campus was completed last week.
- The new portion of the Student Union project with the new dining services area will be open very, very soon.
- A year from now, the original part of the Student Union will open, and it will actually look nice.
- The seven-level North parking garage located behind Kinard Hall will provide 1,300 additional parking spaces;
- The recent purchase of the Baptist Memorial Hospital–North Mississippi property will be a major help in handling future growth. It will free up space on our main campus, house support units that serve external constituencies, and provide swing space during renovations.
I also want to share information about our new STEM Building. It’s our largest building projects to date on the Oxford campus and it’s coming soon. The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Building will be located in the science district of campus. The building will provide some 207K sq ft — that’s massive! — focused upon state of the art teaching methodologies in active learning. Construction is scheduled to start later this year, with project completion expected in the 2018-2019 academic year. It will play a key role in preparing the next generation of students who will make an impact in a technology-driven world.
Two other significant building projects I want to share with you are at our Medical Center in Jackson. We are opening two new buildings that will further our mission of creating a healthier Mississippi. We are especially excited to have just dedicated a brand new School of Medicine Building. This $74 million structure is the envy of any medical school in the world. It will enable us to grow our class size and produce more physicians so crucially needed for our state. The second building is our $64 million Translational Research Center, which houses our new John D. Bower School of Population Health (3rd of its kind in U.S.), Gertrude C. Ford MIND Research Center, neuroscience program, incubator space for startups, and a vivarium.
Let me turn for a moment to the budget. I think we have all followed the news over the last year about the current financial challenges of the State and the uncertainty of any near-term improvements. We continue to manage our university resources prudently and to closely monitor the appropriations outlook for the state. I have full confidence in our continued financial strength and our team that provides leadership in this area for the university.
My highest priority externally is to garner new resources for us to be successful as a top R1 flagship university. On the other side of the coin, we can also be creative as a community in finding ways we can utilize our resources more effectively. The fact that we currently receive about 12% of our total operating budget from state appropriations really underscores the importance of private giving to our pursuit of academic excellence.
So let me share that we have once again received tremendous support from our alumni and friends.
The figures for 2016–2017 are being finalized and will be released very shortly, but we notched our second highest year on record with more than $150 Million. Private support for UM has exceeded $100 million in each of the last six years and our total endowment now stands at $675M.
Now, let me briefly talk about athletics and give an update on football. Many of you may know that we will go before the NCAA Committee on Infractions panel the week of September 11. I want to thank Vice Chancellor Ross Bjork for his leadership and hard work in getting us ready and guiding us through this challenging time. All the information pertaining to the case is available online. We expect final results around early November and look forward to bringing closure and moving forward. I want to commend Coach Matt Luke and the football team for their outstanding response in the face of adversity. The team environment is truly better than ever, and I’m looking forward to a strong season.
Today, I also want give you updates on a few searches that have been completed, are underway, or being planned:
- We are pleased to announce that Charlotte Parks is joining us as the VC for Development. Charlotte comes from the Univ of South Carolina and will be here on Sept. 1.
- We have hired new Chief Info Officer, Mr. Nishanth Rodrigues, who will be joining us on September 5.
- Candidates for the Provost position will be on campus over the next two weeks.
Please follow UM Today for future updates on these and other searches that will take place this fall.
I hope many of you attended Fall Convocation on Tuesday night. We had as our keynote speaker Bryan Stevenson, the author of Just Mercy, the book selected for this year’s Common Reading Experience. Mr. Stevenson was a remarkable speaker and truly inspiring. He shared his amazing story and how he believes we all have the capacity to change the world, and education is key. What a wonderful opportunity for our students to hear from him.
Finally, I would like to say a few words about the recent events in Charlottesville. When we look at the world around us and the many international and national tragedies of the past years, we recognize the challenges and responsibilities we face as educators in a university setting. As I stated many times — most recently on August 14 and again August 22 — the University of Mississippi emphatically condemns and rejects racism and bigotry. There is no place for violence and intolerance — not in our communities, not on our campuses, and not in our country.
Our highest priority is maintaining a safe and welcoming environment for all on our campuses. With that in mind, last week we as a university began rigorous, ongoing planning measures with the City of Oxford, Lafayette County, the State of Mississippi, and the Federal Government to prepare for any potential situation. We will ensure that we keep our community safe and that we turn away all those with violent or malevolent intent.
At the University of Mississippi, we do not shy away from difficult topics, and I’m pleased that we are taking many steps to face these challenges head-on. One way we recently worked to address these issues was through the comprehensive and deliberate efforts of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context.
I hope you have read my July 6, 2017 letter to the university community, which outlines the results of the thorough 15-month long process. In fact, it was part of a larger study lasting more than four years that included the 2014 Action Plan, which urged the university to “offer more history, putting the past into context” and to do so “without attempts to erase history, even some difficult history.” The result of this process is that we are adding contextualization plaques and markers to nine additional sites on campus. Since one building’s namesake was judged to be exceptionally at odds with the values of the time, we will seek to rename it, and we are clarifying the name of another building.
As an educational institution, we were guided in this effort by our overriding responsibility to teach and foster learning, especially from parts of our history that are painful. Contextualization was determined to be the most effective approach to achieve this goal. I greatly appreciate the efforts of the academic and fact-focused committee, which included a number of your fellow faculty members. I also appreciate all the members of our university and broader community who took time to provide us their input, whether it was through our online portal or in person at our listening sessions. The process represents a committed effort to recognize our university’s history and learn from it.
I want to close with a reaffirmation of our core values. The UM Creed stresses our commitment to respect for the dignity of each person, fairness & civility, integrity, academic honesty, academic freedom, and being good stewards and role models. I hope it’s something you will emphasize with your students. These points may be more important now than ever. When we look at the unrest around the country, higher education has an important role in asking difficult questions and finding sustainable solutions to the challenges we face as a society. The UM Creed can guide us as we have the important and difficult conversations we must have to come together as a community. Students look to you for guidance, and I appreciate your commitment to those shared values in our UM Creed.
I want to close with a sneak preview of our national spot, which is what we call the 30 second public service announcement that most often is seen during televised athletic events — for example, halftime during football games. The major message is our commitment to excellence in all we do. And you will undoubtedly recognize the voice of Morgan Freeman, who graciously gave of his time to help convey to the world the impact of your good work.
Thank you again for all you do to make the University of Mississippi a world-class research university.
I wish you all a productive, rewarding, and exciting fall semester. This meeting is now adjourned and please enjoy the Research Reception in the room immediately next door.
Remarks to the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context –February 22, 2017
In March, 2016, I established the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context to recommend “…campus sites, including monuments, buildings, and street names, that should be contextualized to better explain the environments in which they were created or named and how those environments compare to our core institutional values. ” The CACHC was asked to complete its work in the 2017 spring semester.
In its first meeting on August 16, 2016, I charged the CACHC with a two phase set of goals:
I. The initial task of the committee will be to recommend which additional physical sites on the Oxford campus (beyond those already completed) should be contextualized, so as to explain the environment in which they were created or named. Potential sites include
- buildings (for example, Vardaman Hall, Johnson Commons, and Lamar Hall)
- street names
II. Once the recommendations have been reviewed by my office and the list of sites is finalized, the committee will proceed with designing content and format to contextualize the designated sites.The charge also emphasized the importance of community input and engagement throughout the CACHC’s work and urged the inclusion of public forums such as town hall meetings and other in person venues and electronic communication tools. The Committee utilized an online web form to solicit wide input into the identification of sites that formed the core of its Phase I work. This process resulted in 45 separate submissions. Under the leadership of Dr. Don Cole and Ms. Rose Flenorl, co-chairs of the CACHC, the committee worked diligently throughout the Fall 2016 semester. It completed Phase I of its charge and forwarded a recommended list of physical sites for contextualization to me. The list, which consists of ten specific physical sites, received unanimous support of the committee.
Specific CACHC-recommended action includes two items:
- Vardaman Hall (to be renamed through University processes, upon IHL approval)
- Johnson Commons (to add “Sr.” on building, further specifying nominee)
The CACHC also recommended contextualization of the following monuments, buildings, or street names:
- Lamar Hall
- Barnard Observatory
- Longstreet Hall
- George Hall
- Barnard Observatory, Croft Hall, the Lyceum, and Hilgard Cut — plaque to be placed just west of Croft, within site of the first three buildings, noting that these four projects were all constructed with slave labor.
Item 7 was included in a separate part of the committee report, but I have included it in the list, since it is of the same nature of the others in that it contextualizes monuments, buildings, and/or street names.
With gratitude and appreciation for the hard work of the CACHC, I have reviewed and finalized the list of sites to contextualize, as stated above, and we can thus bring to completion Phase I of the committee’s charge.
I now refer the CACHC to Phase II of its charge to “… proceed with designing content and format to contextualize” the sites designated above. I charge the committee to undertake Phase II and complete the tasks outlined above that require its input, in particular, items 3–7. I reiterate the importance of the timely completion of this work as a unit and request that the committee move quickly to establish a work plan that will provide me with a recommendation for content and format on all of the sites by May 31, 2017.
I also wish to reiterate the importance of input and engagement of the entire university community to help the committee consider all relevant information. I urge the committee to act quickly to schedule a public town hall meeting in the coming weeks to discuss this Phase II charge and engage the community. I also urge the CACHC to again utilize online tools to solicit input and to assure that the UM community receives regular updates on the work of the committee. The success of the Phase I work relies heavily on the input of those who submitted comments.
In addition to the physical sites recommended for action, the CACHC also tendered thoughts for “markers” or displays around the university’s larger history. The thoughts of the committee in this regard reflect the deep well of historical and institutional knowledge of its members and reinforces the university’s ongoing work in telling the university’s overall story in an accurate and comprehensive way. However, those thoughts also describe an academic effort that is beyond the scope and charge of this committee. The charge to the committee directed efforts to existing sites, buildings, monuments, and street names to better explain the context in which they were created or named. As important as is the overall story of any university, which is always a proper part of academic inquiry (such as the ongoing archeological work at Sheegog Plantation, which will add to the museum presentation at Rowan Oak), it is not within the scope of the CACHC charge. I would like to note that item 7 was a result of your thoughts related to the university’s broader history; it offered an opportunity to contextualize the history of four additional specific physical sites and fit within the scope of the CACHC.
In conclusion, I would like to thank all of the members of the CACHC for the quality of their work, which today results in completion of Phase I of the charge. I look forward to receiving the recommendation contemplated in Phase II and urge the committee to continue its work with all university stakeholders to ensure fully researched and accurate results.
Update on NCAA Investigation –February 22, 2017
Flagship Constellation Initiative Town Halls –January 12 & 19, 2017
Opening Remarks by Chancellor Vitter
I am really pleased to be here with you today as we launch this new effort. I am particularly gratified how quickly the Flagship Constellation Initiative is coming to fruition from when I first announced it during my investiture speech in November. Let me take a moment to thank Noel Wilkin and Josh Gladden who have helped jumpstart this effort.
I think it is fair to say that when you think about the definition of a constellation, it is related to a group of stars forming a recognizable pattern. Today, I want to encourage everyone to shift gears and think about constellations as configurations of ideas, brilliant clusters, and outstanding groups that are related in some way and have the ability to influence an outcome.
The configuration of ideas of our Flagship Constellations will address compelling challenges where no one discipline has all the answers and only collaboration and deep insights from multiple points of view will discover solutions. The outstanding groups of our Flagship Constellations will include faculty, staff, students, alumni, and other partners. Our brilliants clusters will focus on high-impact, multidisciplinary initiatives where we at the University of Mississippi can be leaders and attain national and international prominence.
Our new definition of constellations presents us with an enhanced opportunity to bring together people and ideas in fresh and unique ways that have the potential to result in endless achievements, added resources through grant funding, and scholarly visibility.
This past fall, on the Oxford campus, we had the honor of hosting Walter Isaacson, noted biographer and CEO of the Aspen Institute. He encouraged us to imagine what we can do when we intersect the arts and sciences, humanities and technology to reveal the nexus where true innovation flourishes. In his book, The Innovators, Isaacson summarizes that innovation occurs when ripe seeds fall on fertile ground; that in the annals of invention, great advances come when the time is right and the atmosphere is charged. I contend that our time is right and our atmosphere of innovation is certainly charged.
Intersecting our disciplines will take many forms. As an example, imagine what we can do if we focus on an interdisciplinary effort in data science and big data, which will inform and support discovery and decision making across the spectrum from health and medicine, to science and engineering, to the arts, humanities and social sciences. And this is just one example. Across our campuses, we have hundreds of combinations that can occur with our tremendous capabilities and areas of expertise.
I was really pleased to read a recent article about how our Medical Center outpaces other institutions in relative research productivity. I think this really confirms what most of us already knew —Mississippians make do. Or as our Associate Vice Chancellor for Research at UMMC, Dr. Richard Summers said, “We have a history of make-do, can-do strategies and being able to do more with less.” I see the Flagship Constellations as another avenue for us to facilitate doing more with the incredible talent we already have in place.
I recognize that bringing together a wide range of groups to address some of the most difficult and complex problems facing our nation and world is a lofty goal. But as a great public international research university and the state’s flagship university, we have a responsibility and an obligation to tackle the pressing issues of our time.
In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “We aim above the mark to hit the mark.” I say, let our purpose and aim be high. In fact, let’s shoot for the sky and see what we can hit — It’s still duck season in Mississippi so we might hit a few ducks along the way!
Thank you for being here today. I urge you to stay connected and be on the look-out for upcoming information sharing events. I am eager about what will result from this exciting, new initiative including the growth of our cross-disciplinary research and creative achievement. I look forward to seeing the leadership role and contributions all of you will have on the success of our Flagship Constellation Initiative.
Lafayette-Oxford-University Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service –January 16, 2017
Burns Belfry Church, Oxford, MS
Good Morning! I am so pleased to be here. First, let me thank all the organizations that joined together to organize this day of community events. You have done a fantastic job.
Today we celebrate and honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King taught us the importance of empathy and understanding. He taught us that with empathy and understanding, we can reach across divides and forge just and inclusive communities. I can think of no better way of honoring his message than by coming together as a community and recognizing the power and purpose of service.
As a flagship university of the state, the University of Mississippi embraces the responsibility of addressing our state’s most pressing societal issues. Doing so allows us to build healthy and vibrant communities. It is a goal that spans healthcare, education, the environment, economic development, and many other issues.
At the University of Mississippi, we participate in service through a number of avenues, including service learning classes, the UM Big Event, the wonderful service programs coordinated and led by the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, and the many research and outreach activities in our College and Schools. And our service work has a major impact — in the 2014–2015 academic year, the UM community served over 600,000 hours, contributing an estimated $12 million to the state economy. We are grateful to partner with the L.O.U. community today and throughout the year in service efforts.
Last year’s MLK Day ceremony was one of the first events I attended in my official capacity as a new chancellor. Now, one year later, I am proud to be joined by the university’s first-ever Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Community Engagement, Dr. Katrina Caldwell. Dr. Caldwell’s presence on campus and in the L.O.U. community signals our university’s enduring commitment to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment.
Dr. Caldwell shares with me a vision of making our university a leader in promoting diversity, inclusion, and community partnerships. Diversity makes us stronger as a community. Diversity makes our ideas better, our approaches more effective, our results stronger, and our relationships deeper. By promoting these values, we honor the legacy of Dr. King. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Caldwell.
In so many ways, our nation has made incredible progress since Dr. King served as a faithful leader of the Civil Rights movement — yet much work remains to be done. In his moving piece, “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
These words remain painfully relevant when we consider the many tragic, racially charged events that spread throughout our nation in 2016. We must challenge ourselves and our community to work in service of hope, justice, and peace. It is not easy work, so we mark this occasion as a call to reaffirm our commitments and come together with those who share our vision for a more just and inclusive community.
I chose to be an academic leader because I am so passionate about the transformative power of higher education. Higher education serves as a means to bring together diverse stakeholders and voices. Through this union, we can change our society. I share Nelson Mandela’s belief that “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”
In closing, I encourage you to take advantage of the many events that have been organized for today’s event. I also hope you will make an ongoing commitment to serving others. Thank you for being here today.
Investiture of Dr. Vitter as 17th Chancellor of the University of Mississippi –November 10, 2016
[You can watch this speech and the entire investiture ceremony online at csci.cs.OleMiss.edu/vitter_inauguration/.]
Thank you, Provost Stocks. Welcome, everyone! I also thank the members of the Board of Trustees of the Institutions of Higher Learning, Commissioner Boyce, and my fellow IHL presidents and administrators for your support and your service. I am privileged to be your partner in building a vibrant Mississippi through higher education.
I offer my appreciation as well to the Federal, state, and local officials who are with us today. Your counsel and support are crucial elements in the success of this flagship university, and we are honored by your presence.
To the Ole Miss family — thank you for so readily welcoming and embracing my family. From day one, I have relied upon members of our superb Senior Leadership Group, the excellent University of Mississippi Medical Center Executive Cabinet, the two “wonder women” Sue Keiser and Kim Barnes, and a host of talented faculty, staff, students, and alumni across our many campuses.
I believe in the adage that we all stand upon the shoulders of others. And though they are too numerous to name, I would like to acknowledge the many mentors, collaborators, and friends whose support has made it possible for me to stand before you today. I am especially grateful to the IHL board, and to my siblings, family, and friends who not only encouraged Sharon and me to return to the South, but to the best possible place in the South — right here at Ole Miss!
I’m only sorry that my parents could not be here today. They were amazing, loving people who instilled in my five siblings and me a passion for education and the importance of using education to help people.
Sharon and I are so proud to have our three kids here today — Jillian, Scott, and Audrey. We love them deeply. They are each wonderfully talented and accomplished. But we are most proud that they are kind and loving individuals who sincerely care about others.
Of all the things I say today, none will be more heartfelt than the statement that I would not be here were it not for Sharon. For the past 34 years, Sharon has been my life partner, chief advisor, and champion. Anyone who has met Sharon understands that she is the real reason I was hired. She is consistently patient …well, she’s usually patient …and always both loving and steadfast. Sharon, I am so blessed to have you in my life and to share this day with you.
Higher education creates opportunity as well as the ideas and innovations that drive our economy and society forward. I chose to be an academic leader because I am so passionate about the transformative power of higher education. There is nothing more important to the future of our society than higher education. It is the great enabler that helps people lift themselves above their circumstances and disadvantages.
I join in Nelson Mandela’s belief that “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”
I was drawn to this extraordinary University of Mississippi because of its rich tradition of academic excellence, strong sense of community, recognized history as an economic driver and thought leader, and good fortune to be located in a culinary mecca like Oxford.
Success of this magnitude is the shared legacy left to us by the thousands of faculty, staff, students, alumni, government leaders, and friends who have invested their time, talents, and resources in the university. And the crown of this legacy is the visionary leadership of former chancellors Gerald Turner, Robert Khayat, and Dan Jones, and Morris Stocks as provost and interim chancellor. I offer my personal thanks to each of you for your vision and your role in advancing this incomparable university.
When I arrived at Ole Miss 314 days ago, we began a dialogue around greatness and the hallmarks of being a flagship university.
- What does it mean to be a great university?
- What does it take for our flagship university to go to the next level of excellence — to go from great to greater?
- And what is so distinctive about our university, so intrinsic to our very being, that we should never change as we go forward?
This vitally important conversation began in January with the Flagship Forum — a 100-day listening and learning tour that touched thousands of stakeholders — and continued through university-wide senior leadership retreats and a Town Hall meeting in August that generated over 550 ideas.
I would like to briefly summarize this 10-month conversation and how it can fuel our imagination for a bright and exciting future.
The University of Mississippi is indeed what Chancellor Robert Khayat prophesied in his investiture address 20 years ago — a great American public university. We are indeed a great public international research university. While great institutions share many things in common, none is more primary than the relentless drive to be ever greater.
Greatness has many aspects, but on a university campus, it all starts with academic excellence. In a commencement speech here 15 years ago, Jim Barksdale quoted Stephen Covey when he said, “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” And, at the University of Mississippi, the main thing is academic excellence.
Like all great universities, we measure ourselves against standards and metrics related to national rankings and academic performance. We also stand out nationally with unique academic programs and learning experiences, such as the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College (which I will attest is the absolute best in the nation), the Croft Institute for International Studies, and the list goes on and on.
Greatness through academic excellence includes research excellence. For the first time in our history, this past February, the University of Mississippi achieved the pinnacle: the Carnegie R1 highest research activity designation — attaining a stature afforded only the top 2.5% of universities nationwide.
The value of a University of Mississippi degree continues to increase, as attested by a student body that has doubled in size over the last 20 years. We are the largest university in the state, with the largest freshman enrollment. We have the highest entering ACT average and the highest entering grade point average, as well as the highest retention rate.
As Mississippi’s flagship university, we also embrace our responsibility to address our state’s most pressing issues, many of which have to do with the health of Mississippians. As the only academic medical center in our state, the UM Medical Center receives over 1 million patient visits each year and is a national leader in telemedicine. We are the preeminent complement to local hospitals and sustainable community healthcare, and we provide the leading venue in the state for trauma, pediatrics, transplants, and telehealth.
We also promote economic and community development through partnerships, community-engaged scholarship, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
Underneath our persona as a great public international research university beats the heart of who we are. At our core, Ole Miss is a family. It is in our DNA to enable every student — from the least prepared to the most prepared — to succeed and thrive. Every day, across all our campuses, we see the power of higher education transform lives, communities, and the world.
We are bound to one another through our UM Creed that calls upon us to respect every individual, embrace fairness and civility, and commit to integrity and academic freedom. An Ole Miss Rebel is an innovator, a mentor, a teacher, a teammate, a caregiver, a champion for others, and a fiercely loyal family member.
Ours is a large and extended family, including tens of thousands of alumni, for whom Frank Everett’s words ring true — “the university gives a diploma and regretfully terminates tenure, but one never graduates from Ole Miss.” You are likely to exchange a “Hotty Toddy” with a fellow Rebel any place in the world, just as I did in a large square in Venice, Italy, this past summer.
Ole Miss alumni “give back.” Literally! This past year, philanthropic gifts from our alumni and friends shattered our all-time giving record. Without their selfless support, we would not be where we are, and we would not be in a position to dream of what can be.
We are standing atop a peak in our history, and, from where we now stand, we can see higher peaks. In becoming what we are, we have created greater capacity for what we can be. The important conversation we must have now is not “What makes us great?” but rather, “How do we go from great to greater?” and “How will we get there?”
It goes without saying that in seeking to become greater, we will sustain and advance the excellence we have already established. Using our strengths as a spring board, we will — together — create a roadmap into the future focusing upon the four themes that emerged from the Flagship Forum:
- academic excellence,
- building healthy and vibrant communities,
- athletics excellence, and
- the key enablers: people, places, and resources.
We live in an increasingly complex world with many pressing problems. Imagine what we can do when we make a great learning environment even greater by expanding international presence on our campuses, and educating our students — tomorrow’s leaders — to prosper in a global society.
No one person or discipline has the full breadth of knowledge capable of solving any one of the world’s grand challenges. As management expert Ken Blanchard notes, “none of us is as smart as all of us.”
Just imagine what we can do if we identify university-wide priorities where we can be international leaders in addressing the important challenges in our state and world. Imagine what we can do if we take our collective strengths, leverage them, exploit multidisciplinary synergies, and in the process come up with imaginative solutions to these grand challenges.
I am excited today to announce that we will soon call for ideas of high-impact multidisciplinary research initiatives called Flagship Constellations. Flagship Constellations will comprise clusters of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and partners to address compelling challenges where no one discipline has all the answers and only collaboration and deep insights from multiple points of view will discover solutions.
We will establish joint degree programs across disciplines and campuses, engage in strategic growth of our graduate programs, and establish key partnerships revolving around innovation and entrepreneurship.
Intersecting our disciplines will take many forms. As an example, imagine what we can do when we build upon the momentum from our recent CEO Technology Summit to establish an interdisciplinary program in data science and big data, which will inform and support discovery and decision making across the spectrum from health and medicine, to science and engineering, to the arts, humanities and social sciences.
Imagine what we can do when we intersect the arts and sciences, humanities and technology to reveal the nexus where true innovation flourishes. Famous biographer (and fellow New Orleanian) Walter Isaacson made that very point at our CEO Technology Summit, using the iPhone as an example of innovative design thinking that has transformed how we communicate.
I am pleased to announce today that to our immediate east we will develop a Cultural Gateway to draw together our arts and cultural programs, anchored by this wonderful Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts, one of the gems of our campus. This space will create performance, experiential learning, and enrichment opportunities that will support our community and our region.
Our greatness is visible across every spectrum — from the academic classroom to athletics and service. Athletics excellence, long a hallmark of Ole Miss, has achieved even greater heights under the leadership of Vice Chancellor Ross Bjork and his talented team of coaches, staff, and student athletes. Athletics is our front porch to the university, and it has ignited the passions of thousands of people as we have had unprecedented success in recent years. From our student-athletes this past semester achieving their highest-ever GPA of over 3.0, to construction of premier venues and fan experiences, and to multiple team rankings in the top 25, Ole Miss athletics continues to rise!
I am proud to announce today that we will soon launch an athletics endowment initiative. Imagine what we can do with an endowed resource base to provide the resources to sustain competitive excellence.
A key part of our flagship mission is to build healthy and vibrant communities — a mandate that takes many forms. First and foremost, we have a responsibility to keep our communities — and the people who live there — healthy. As the state’s only academic medical center, we are uniquely positioned to lead healthcare strategy for the state.
Imagine what we can do to improve the health of Mississippians with our new Bower School of Population Health and its Department of Data Science. Only the third of its kind in the country, the Bower School will transform healthcare practice in Mississippi and beyond.
Just imagine what we can do when each year we graduate a new cadre of students from our School of Education in our Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program. These students are among the best and brightest, and they commit to stay in Mississippi to teach Mississippi children. Imagine their impact on future generations of Mississippians!
As we all know, community needs in Mississippi are not limited to healthcare and education, and range from economic to environmental to policy.
Imagine what we can do if we channel the talents of our university — our entire university — to partner with towns and cities — one at a time — to enhance every aspect of community life. Imagine!
This big idea surfaced in our university-wide leadership retreat and was appropriately dubbed “The Big Idea.” As we move forward and further develop the Big Idea, we will be looking to all of you to identify resources and partnerships to support an integrated approach. And maybe you can even come up with a better name than “the Big Idea.”
Nothing we imagine will be possible without great people. As Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, observes, “great vision without great people is irrelevant.” At Ole Miss, our people are the comprehensive enabler for all that we might do in achieving excellence and building healthy and vibrant communities.
Sharon and I came here because of the people — because of all of you. The audacious record of success that the University of Mississippi has achieved is because you imagined what could be and made it so.
Recognizing that our greatest asset is our people, we will continue to invest in them, renew them, reward them, and appreciate them. Imagine what we can do when we increase the resources dedicated to their development. I am pleased today to announce that we will grow faculty excellence by creating new endowed professorships around the Flagship Constellations and by providing more opportunities for engaged scholarship and creative achievement. We will also establish an endowment specifically to support the development, retention, and engagement of our highly talented staff.
I believe deeply that excellence and diversity go hand in hand. Diversity — in ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, culture, academic training, and scholarly discipline —makes us stronger as a community. Diversity makes our ideas better, our approaches more effective, our results stronger, and our relationships deeper. I know from personal experience that when done in a principled way, we can and will focus upon hiring for excellence and, by so doing, simultaneously build diversity.
We will sustain an atmosphere that is welcoming and respectful of individuals and multiple viewpoints. We will model and actualize our UM Creed, and we will serve as a guide to our nation in learning from our past and creating a vibrant positive future. Noted poet Maya Angelou was right when she said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
What we can be will require additional resources. Whether it be our new STEM Building on this campus, the expansion of translational science and clinical trial capabilities and a new Children’s Hospital wing at our Medical Center in Jackson, or exciting new programs and venues, we must work hard to plan in a focused way, garner resources around that vision, and execute the plan.
And I commit — with your help — to moving our endowment, which currently sits at $600 million to over $1 billion.
I believe our greatest calling in life is to make the lives of others better. And that is why I believe, more strongly than I ever have, that it is the mission of higher education to transform lives, communities, and the world. Ole Miss has transformed lives, including mine and many of yours.
Just imagine what more we can do.
As French novelist Marcel Proust so aptly observed, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” We became a great American public university because you imagined we could be and made it happen, proving that composer Richard Wagner was right when he said that “imagination creates reality.”
Just imagine what we can do and how far we can go.
Thank you again, all of you, for allowing Sharon and me to be a part of this tremendous family, for letting us realize our own personal goals in a place of such amazing grace and beauty. We have lived in many places on our journey to arrive home here at the University of Mississippi. And we are so proud that we are Ole Miss Rebels!
The next chapter in the life of this magnificent university sits squarely in all of our hands, waiting to be written — and read by future generations. All of us will ultimately be defined by what we leave behind. It is our destiny as a flagship university to desire more, to give more, to be more and to leave more behind. It is our calling to transform lives, communities, and the world.
JUST IMAGINE WHAT WE WILL DO!
. . . JUST . . . IMAGINE!
State of the University Address –August 29, 2016
The Inn at Ole Miss
Welcome and thank you for coming.
Today marks my 242nd day on the job as your Chancellor. And, if I wanted to do a traditional “State of the University” today, I could provide a one-line summary: the University of Mississippi is a great institution!
Over the last eight months, I have learned that fact from all of you. During the Flagship Forum in the spring, I spent 100 days in over 200 group interactions. I saw firsthand the amazing things we do at Ole Miss and that we truly are a great university.
All great institutions share one thing in common: a drive and will to get even better. Or else they wouldn’t be great. And so during the Flagship Forum, I asked these questions:
- What does it take for our university to go to the next level of excellence?
- To go from great to greater?
- What should we preserve about the essence of the university that is important for excellence?
I have distilled what I heard about going from great to greater into four themes:
- Academic excellence
- Healthy and vibrant communities — local and global
- People, places, and resources
- Athletics excellence
You will also see those four themes posted on the boards around the outer edge of this room.
We’re here today to expand our conversations and start developing a shared vision for a greater UM. Today is an important step in the ultimate process to create a strategic plan — a roadmap for how to achieve our vision.
The first way we’ll discuss of going from great to greater is through academic excellence. Our academic excellence is evident across all of our campuses:
- Nationally ranked and innovative degree programs that are in heavy demand.
- Enrollment and quality of students continue to rise.
- The value of our degrees is increasing.
- In February, we attained Carnegie R1 research status, placing us in the top 2.5% of U.S. universities.
To be greater we have to ask important questions like:
- How do we provide the very best learning environment and experiences?
- What new pedagogies and technologies can enhance the learning process?
- What do we need to do to not only maintain that R1 status, but to enhance it, with strong research and thriving graduate programs?
More than ever, higher education has a crucial role to play to break the cycle of poverty and violence in parts of society. There is no better way than education to provide people the capabilities to lift themselves up and realize rewarding lives. How can we provide those life-changing educational opportunities?
The second way from great to greater is building healthy and vibrant communities. Our university community is deeply committed to serving others — to undertake programs and activities that have both local and global impact.
Our UM Medical Center — Mississippi’s only academic medical center — has more than one million patient visits each year. With major new facilities opening in the next year, there is great potential in expanding clinical trials and translational research. These efforts can bring innovations into practice to save lives and improve people’s quality of life.
Scholarly engagement brings the creativity of our faculty, staff, and students to our partner communities across the state, nation, and world to solve important problems of the day.
And we want to do more. We must do more. In June, we held a universitywide leadership meeting with teams from the Oxford campus and medical center campus. The teams developed an exciting concept we’re calling the “Big Idea”.
- What if we, as a university — our entire university — partnered with a town or small city to enhance and improve all parts of their community life?
- What if we, as a university, could bring to such a partnership, simultaneously, the full range of our talents in health, education, the arts, entrepreneurship, business, and law?
- Couldn’t we — shouldn’t we — work in partnership to help lift and transform every facet of our partner community?
And we will engage both locally and globally. We are living in an increasingly global environment. To be successful, our students need to gain an appreciation for other cultures and perspectives — both by studying abroad as well as by experiencing a more diverse, international environment here on campus in Mississippi. How can we best provide those experiences?
The third way to go from great to greater involves these important enablers: People, places, and resources. They enable the previous themes. The people of our university are what makes Ole Miss great — exceptional people with a rich diversity of talents and backgrounds. How can we enhance our ability to attract the best and brightest into MS and to keep the best and brightest in MS?
I know from personal experience — as I talked about during my interviews for chancellor — that if done right, which is the key, we can build excellence and diversity simultaneously. Diversity and excellence are mutually reinforcing.
Our alumni and friends are passionate and positive about this special place. This past 2015–2016 year, we broke — no, shattered — our record for private giving. Our endowment currently sits at $600 million. One of my goals is to take it to $1 billion. We need to acquire additional resources. On the other side of the coin, we need to be creative as a community in finding ways we can utilize our resources more effectively.
There is great energy — and need — for developing our infrastructure to support bold academic goals on all our campuses. On all our campuses, we are building hundreds of millions of dollars of new infrastructure. Enhancements to our facilities promote academic goals, help us extend our reach and impact, and attract and keep the best people.
A project we are undertaking on selected physical buildings and spaces is led by the newly formed Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context. Their charge is to better explain the environments in which the sites were created or named and how those environments compare to our core institutional values. They are presently seeking public input through an online web form at the web site context.OleMiss.edu, due Friday, September 9. Please get involved. Read their charge and follow their work.
The final theme identified during the Forum was the important enabler of athletics excellence. Athletics is often called the “front porch” of a university. The integrity and competitiveness of our athletics program has played a big role in elevating the Ole Miss name and brand to its strongest point in school history. Through athletics, we capture the hearts of people in MS and around the country. Athletics brings them to campus, where they can experience the full richness of our great university. There can be little argument that the overall success of our athletics program is an integral part of our growth, our visibility, our ability to raise money, and ultimately our success.
So, by every measure, I submit that the University of Mississippi is a great university with enormous momentum, poised to go to that next level of excellence.
In my June 10, 2016, letter to the UM Community, I emphasized that we are and will proudly continue to be Ole Miss Rebels. Our brand — the Ole Miss Rebels — is known throughout the country for all the positive attributes of our university: leadership, opportunity, teamwork, innovation, creativity, commitment, integrity….
It is time now for all of us to talk about big bold ideas that will take us from great to greater. Let us identify and focus upon the most important ways forward:
- What are our biggest and most important opportunities to advance in all four areas?
- What should we strive for?
- What “could be”?
- and how do we get there?
- What barriers do we have to remove and blast through?
I have said many times in the last eight months that every voice matters. Now, with tremendous momentum at our backs, we need the earnest effort of everyone in our community to help us develop a shared vision and roadmap for going from great to greater. Today is the next step.
So now it’s your turn to take the pen and help write our next chapter. Let’s start right now.
Fall Convocation Address –August 23, 2016
Pavilion at Ole Miss
Greetings! Thanks to all in attendance. Thank you to everyone who had a hand in organizing this wonderful event.
Welcome, Class of 2020! 2020 is a year that looms large in the imagination. Here are some predictions that people and news sources have made about what the world will be like by the year 2020:
- China will create a high speed train that travels all the way from Beijing to London!
- 10 million self-driving cars will be on the road
- And we’ll be able to harness brain waves via implanted microchips, and use them to control computers, televisions, and cell phones.
Will these predictions come true? Only time will tell.
But one thing we can say with certainty is that it is an exciting time. Much will change over the next four years. You will change — college does that to you, or certainly should! It’s an exciting personal change that will open many doors.
I wish I could go around the room and have you all introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about you and how you’re adjusting to life on campus. But. . . there are just too many exits in this building to risk it! So I’m just going to do a quick show-of-hands survey:
- Raise your hand if you have already greeted someone with a “Hotty Toddy”!
- Raise your hand if your parents decorated your room!
- Raise your hand if you’ve tried the chicken on a stick from the corner gas station!
You’ll learn lots of great things about Ole Miss and the people here who make it so special. During your four years here at Ole Miss, you are going to learn what it means to be an Ole Miss Rebel. Your four years here will change you. But more than that, you will change this university, make this university better. And even more than that, you will go out and change lives, change your communities, and change the world. At the heart of this change is the transformative power of higher education that you will carry in you for your entire life.
Sitting here tonight, it might feel a little daunting to you to think how all that can possibly happen. So I want to share with you three things. I want to share how you go from the beginning of your journey here tonight to four years from now when you are transformed by
- the power of the higher education
- the power of the University of Mississippi
- the power of being an Ole Miss Rebel
The three things I want to share are these:
- Listening is the key to success — both in the classroom and outside of it.
- Every voice matters — find yours and use it.
- Be respectful — of one other, our place, and yourselves.
First, let me talk about listening and why it’s important. Our great university is a microcosm of the world, meaning it encapsulates in miniature the characteristics of the entire world — not just Mississippi, the South, and the U.S. All you need to do is look around you. When you’re out walking, staying present in the moment, fully exploring new places, you will be surprised by the many different things you find.
The University of Mississippi is a community made up of many kinds of people, from many different places, taking part in many different activities.
- We have over 100 majors and academic programs here.
- We have over 250 clubs and organizations.
- There will be over 300 service events this year.
- And thousands of class meetings . . .
- In this incoming class, we have students from nearly every state in the country (44 states).
- 42% are from Mississippi and 58% from out of state.
- Including 1 from Alaska and 404 from Texas!
- Our student population overall represents 90 countries.
- Including 21 from Nepal here tonight!
I especially urge you to study abroad. In fact, start planning it now. It can be short term. . . or even better, an entire semester during your sophomore or junior year. It will be a life-changing and life-expanding experience. It will position you for the increasingly global world that you will live and work in each and every day. Here on campus, our university provides the diverse environment to expand your mind, challenge you, and introduce you to new ways of thinking. Embrace this opportunity. Make an effort to get out of your comfort zone. Expand your horizons. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes… as long as you learn from them!
Listen carefully to the points of view of those with whom you disagree — you may change your mind on some issues. Challenge the point of view of those with whom you agree — you may strengthen your own view.
If you cannot persuasively argue for another point of view, you don’t really understand or fully appreciate your own.
A big part of your college experience will be learning how to listen to other voices. You will learn how to engage in civil discourse, how to think critically, and how to challenge assumptions. But you can only do these things if you listen first.
I know it takes dedication to really listen to others. I know that fact because back in late January I started a 100-day listening and learning tour called the Flagship Forum. I interacted with over 200 groups on this campus and around the state and nation.
Every day I saw firsthand evidence of the greatness of this university. All great institutions share one element in common: They always seeking to get even better.
And so during the Flagship Forum I asked and talked about several questions:
- What does it take for our university to go to the next level of excellence?
- To go from great to greater?
- What should we preserve about the essence of the university that is important for excellence?
This coming year we will be exploring as a community how this university can become better than ever.
In this microcosm of the world, you — and only you — can bring your unique perspective and experiences to our community. You each play a big part in keeping this place great and making it even greater for all our future students — for those who will join us next year and the year after that, even long after you’ve graduated and gone on to your successful lives and careers.
After all, it’s important to remember that all of you have one thing in common: you chose Ole Miss. You share a common bond now that can never be broken. Over the next four years, you’ll share experiences that will be unique to your class. Tonight is the first step in your shared experiences. Keep that commonality in mind even as you embrace your differences.
The second point I want to emphasize is that every voice matters.
I’m excited to be speaking with y’all tonight. However, I’m not the speaker originally scheduled. Traditionally that honor goes to the author of the Common Reading Experience book.
In the Common Reading Experience, we all come together and read one text, so that we can discuss it together. Think about a movie you saw with your parents. Or a time you learned exciting news in your hometown and discussed it with your family and friends over dinner. That’s the purpose of the Common Read — to get us all on the same page and have exciting discussions about something we read together.
This year, the Common Reading Experience book is a collection of short stories, Ten Little Indians, by Sherman Alexie, a poet and a writer. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. Some of the stories touch upon what it means to be a college student in our wonderfully diverse country.
It’s unfortunate that we don’t have Sherman Alexie with us tonight. He was scheduled to come, but cancelled in protest of a new law, H.B. 1523, that Mississippi passed in April.
A bit about this law: It allows religious officials, circuit clerks, and private businesses to deny services to members of the LGBTQ community. Because many people feel this law is unconstitutional, it is being challenged in federal court. It was struck down in June by U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves, but since then it has been appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Therefore, whether or not it can be legally enforced is still in the process of being decided — and it may go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
I made clear last April that here at the University of Mississippi, we will always respect the dignity of each person — ours is a free, open, and inclusive environment of intellectual inquiry.
The passage of this law led many people throughout the country to protest the state of Mississippi. People and institutions are in effect boycotting Mississippi. Governors of New York, Washington, Vermont, and Minnesota issued executive orders banning nonessential travel to Mississippi. Included in this group was Sherman Alexie.
While the motivation of these boycotts is to encourage Mississippi to repeal the law, Sherman Alexie’s cancellation is an unfortunate loss. Boycotts isolate Mississippi’s people from broader perspectives and ideas. They discourage corporations from bringing business to our state. They challenge our ability to attract the best and brightest. In particular, they are unfair to you, as you are just now beginning to participate in civic life.
Even so, there is a small silver lining to these boycotts. The boycotts give us an opportunity to embrace our voice — to be a part of the discussion of what makes this place unique and great. It is a reminder that each of you is what makes this place unique and great, and it is an opportunity and responsibility to reaffirm our commitment to inclusion.
This commitment leads me to the UM Creed and to my third point, Respect each other, this place, and yourselves.
You will soon be hearing the Creed read aloud in its entirety by ASB president Austin Powell. It is one of the most important things we can talk about on the eve of your journey into college. If we think about the University of Mississippi as a microcosm of the world, then consider the UM Creed to be our shared pledge to one other. Essentially, it asks us to commit to
- Respect for the dignity of each person and all that it entails;
- Fairness and civility;
- Academic honesty;
- Academic freedom; and
- Being good stewards and setting a positive example.
The Creed guides our institution and has recently influenced several pivotal decisions on this campus, including the removal of the state flag last fall in the Lyceum Circle and the creation of a committee to contextualize some of our historical sites on campus. Last week we just kicked off the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context. Our Creed also gives us a way to process and understand troubling and upsetting events that occur on our campus, so that we can learn from them. Events such as the one last spring, when our campus community was shaken by a troubling event. This troubling event occurred during a fraternity-sponsored event that was, in spirit, intended to be philanthropic.
Philanthropic — let’s parse that word together. The origins are Greek. “Philia” means “love.” You likely know that “Philadelphia” is known as the “City of Brotherly Love.” “Anthropos” means humanity. For example, you likely know that “anthropology” is the study of humans, past and present. Putting Philia and Anhropos together, you get “Philanthropy,” which means the love of humanity — and giving of yourself and your resources to help humanity. My point is that this event was a philanthropic event — to promote goodness and charitability. Ironically, it instead became the setting for the unacceptable sexual harassment of female students.
The values in our Creed are plainspoken and clear. Our Creed emphasizes respect for the dignity of each person and our belief in fairness and civility. The unacceptable sexual harassment of female students at this event stands in sharp contrast to the values that are stated in absolute terms within our Creed.
I wish I could tell you that this occurrence was an outrageous outlier. But the truth is that things like this do happen. They have happened here, and they happen at other colleges and universities. In many ways, these events are symptoms of larger cultural issues.
However, I am not suggesting that because these things do happen, it means that they inevitably will happen, or that they have to happen. On the contrary, these things do not have to happen; they must not happen.
Because Ole Miss is better than that. We are all better than that. Because there is a medicine that can treat these larger cultural issues. That magic pill is called respect — the first element of our Creed. It’s a resource that can be found within all of us.
Tonight, I charge you to aspire to the tenets of our Creed. We have great role models at Ole Miss to guide you.
Be like the leadership of our fraternities and sororities, who are working together to make our campus better. They have stepped up bigtime and have pledged to change the culture that allows such incidents to happen. They have pledged to educate their members and re-focus their efforts on making a difference in the community. The entire fraternity system at Ole Miss is making great strides forward.
Be like Elizabeth Romary. Elizabeth, an Ole Miss senior, was among 28 students chosen nationally for the It’s On Us Student Advisory Committee. Launched by the White House, the program is a grassroots, student-led approach to combatting sexual violence. Elizabeth will help organize students to encourage bystander intervention and support survivors.
Be like our African American student leaders. They are working with our university police dept. to develop strong relationships and build trust between students and law enforcement — to increase awareness and understanding of all perspectives.
Be like Connor Edwards. Connor, a recent Ole Miss grad, was transformed after spending two summers abroad — teaching in Thailand and Japan. Connor found a way to connect with others, embrace differences, and be a great servant leader and Ole Miss ambassador. He helped start the “Global Café” on campus to bring international students and American students together to meet and foster friendships and share cultures.
Be like our Olympic medalist Sam Kendricks. Sam, a member of the Ole Miss track and field family, has garnered national attention beyond his bronze medal-winning pole vault performance at the Olympics. What could be more impressive than winning an Olympic medal? Well. . . how about Sam’s displays of respect and sportsmanship — not just once, but twice: First, when Sam was running during a practice jump at the Olympics, about to start his jump, he stopped dead in his tracks and stood at attention when he heard our National Anthem being played. Later, you probably saw on Twitter his celebratory and selfless reaction to the Brazilian pole vaulter winning the gold medal.
Follow these great Ole Miss Rebel role models as you go venture out into your freshman year, and as you continue all of your years at Ole Miss. You have great privilege and great responsibility within our community: You are now part of the Ole Miss Family. There is no better word to describe our community than as a family.
You will be called to act upon your responsibilities to uphold the UM Creed as individuals and as part of that family. By following the Creed, we can have the difficult, but respectful discussions we must have as a family and as a community.
You might think, “I’m just one person!” And indeed, our university is a big and growing place. Yet the truth is that. . . what you do matters. Your voice matters.
In conclusion, I would like to offer some of my own predictions about 2020:
- I predict you’ll become passionate about a subject that today is a total mystery to you — perhaps something you’ve never even heard of before.
- I predict you’ll make a friend who is unlike anyone you’ve ever met before.
- And I predict that you will embrace the transformative power of being a Rebel, of being at Ole Miss, and a citizen of the world.
Go! Experience! Keep your head up, and your eyes open. Sharon and I will see you often around campus and at various university events. I want to hear from you. And please follow me on Twitter @UMchancellor and check out the blog on my web page so you can hear from me!
Some of you may know that I took a panoramic view of my first graduation and tweeted it. So, tonight I’m starting a new tradition as chancellor. Class of 2020, you’ll be my first panoramic of our newest Rebels!
So, REBELS, fins up and smile!
Charge to CACHC –August 16, 2016
The following is a transcript of my charge to the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context during the initial meeting held on August 16, 2016:
Welcome! Thank you for being here today and thank you for agreeing to serve. The work of this committee is one of our highest priorities and will ensure that we continue to be a welcoming place for all.
When deciding the best way to approach contextualization efforts on our campus, we considered a number of factors: The most important was to seek input from the university community. Another was to conduct a scan of the national landscape to identify best practices employed by exemplary universities engaged in similar contextualization efforts.
These approaches helped guide the foundation of the CACHC as a committee based upon defined criteria of expertise and experience rather than upon a constituent representation model. I think it is important to recognize that we are on the forefront of institutions of higher education in the nation to systematically and vigorously undertake contextualization efforts — we are in the company of the likes of Yale, Princeton, Georgetown, Harvard, and Brown among others.
Let me take a moment to acknowledge Ms. Rose Flenorl and Dr. Donald Cole for their willingness to serve as co-chairs. You will hear more from Don and Rose in a little while, but I want to express my gratitude and complete confidence in their ability to guide this committee. They are both highly respected members of our university community and possess a wealth of experience and expertise.
You will remember that on June 10, I wrote a letter to the UM community (which is in the resource materials in your binder) about our efforts related to the 2014 Action Plan, initiated by former chancellor Dan Jones. From the very beginning of my tenure as chancellor, as I emphasized at the Faculty Senate meeting on February 9, I have been and continue to be committed to the six recommendations of that plan. Much has been accomplished, as is referenced in my June 10 letter and listed on the context.OleMiss.edu web site. You have a copy of the summary of the progress to date.
The work of this committee is focused upon recommendation 5 of that plan, namely, contextualization. It is important to acknowledge and commend all the groundwork this university has done over the last several years on recommendation 5. From the renaming of Confederate Drive to Chapel Lane to the plaque at the front entrance of the Pavilion recognizing Coolidge Ball, the first African-American student-athlete at the university, much has already been achieved toward our important goals.
Last summer, then-interim chancellor Morris Stocks appointed a four-person committee to undertake four specific contextualizations: the Confederate Statue at Lyceum Circle, Vardaman Hall, Johnson Commons, and Lamar Hall. Their work on the Confederate Statue was done and approved last fall, and the plaque arrived and was installed in mid-March 2016.
However, as I wrote in a letter to the community on March 29, we received a great deal of input from the community related to the lack of awareness of the committee and its mission, insufficient opportunities for community input, and suggestions to change the wording of the plaque. After meeting with the committee and a group of faculty and students, the committee expressed interest to consider further input and suggestions from the UM community to help determine whether the plaque should be revised and, if so, how.
After considerable input and study, the committee made its final recommendation and the work on the Confederate Statue is now complete. The new plaque that will replace the one currently on display just arrived and will be installed within the next two weeks. I would like to express my appreciation to Drs. Cole, Mullins, Ross, and Sansing for spearheading that contextualization effort on the Confederate Statue. They have provided us a good foundation for the CACHC to build upon for the remaining sites that can benefit from contextualization. As members of this committee, you represent the next step in continuing this important work.
Now, I would like to turn our attention to the official charge for the CACHC. The committee charge deals specifically with recommendation 5 of the 2014 Action Plan and has two parts:
- The initial task of the committee will be to recommend which additional physical sites on the Oxford campus (beyond those already completed) should be contextualized, so as to explain the environment in which they were created or named. Potential additional sites include:
- buildings (for example, Vardaman Hall, Johnson Commons, and Lamar Hall);
- street names.
- Once the recommendations have been reviewed by my office and the list of sites is finalized, the committee will proceed with designing content and format to contextualize the designated sites.
In order to most effectively and efficiently undertake the charge, the work of this committee will commence today and proceed through this academic year in order to produce a single, comprehensive report of all recommended contextualizations by March 2017.
I know you are aware of the sensitive nature of the work of this committee, and for the sake of honest discussion, it is imperative to respect confidentiality in committee discussions. Additionally, some of the committee’s recommendations may require certain approvals or changes in procedure before being fully implemented. Such matters are especially sensitive and further reason for confidentiality in the course of discussions. At the same time, the co-chairs will be responsible for updating the community on a regular basis as to the general status of the work.
Let me talk briefly about the formation and responsibilities of this committee. Over the course of several weeks in the spring, I conducted listening sessions with numerous groups representing students, faculty, staff, and alumni as well as other valued members of the university community. The conversations were focused around four key questions:
- What do you think are important criteria for the expanded committee members?
- What would you consider is optimum size for the committee?
- What other groups should I ask for advice?
- What are other ways to engage the community?
Key themes emerged from these conversations that shaped the composition of the CACHC. You were nominated and selected for this committee based upon five key criteria that came up in the listening sessions:
- Expertise in relevant subject matters such as history, sociology, English, law, or race relations;
- A demonstrated track record of consensus building and collaboration;
- A deep understanding of the UM community and culture;
- Experience in commemoration and contextualization of historic sites; and
- A commitment to a process that is inclusive, respectful, civil, candid, transparent and honors the UM Creed.
The work of this committee is an academic project. That point about this work being an academic project is an important one: None of one of you is here because you represent a particular constituency group. You are here because collectively you have the expertise and background in these five criteria to contribute strongly to this academic project.
Another thing I heard loud and clear during the listening sessions was the need for community input and engagement. It is paramount to the integrity and success of our contextualization efforts. While individual committee meetings are necessarily confidential, our process should always be guided by the UM Creed and will benefit from broad platforms for public input and interaction. Please be sure to utilize transparent and inclusive mechanisms, such as CACHC Town Hall and surveys. For example, in order to address the first charge, a natural mechanism to ensure that no sites are overlooked is to solicit ideas from the community through a combination of in-person venues and electronic submission. The second charge could make similar use of community interactions.
I encourage you in your work to employ a variety of methods, including the formation of subcommittees, which can include outside expertise as needed on a project-by-project basis.
There will likely be places along the journey where seasoned and wise leaders will have valuable historical perspectives, especially related to the engagement of stakeholders and the explanation of both the process and the product. At the University of Mississippi, we have access to an amazing wealth of knowledge and experience, and I have asked several of our most noted individuals to serve as a resource to you, including:
- James Campbell, recent campus speaker and noted historian at Stanford University;
- Robert Khayat, UM chancellor emeritus;
- John Palmer, technology entrepreneur and former ambassador;
- William Winter, former governor of Mississippi and namesake of our Institute for Racial Reconciliation.
I urge you to take the time to benefit from their thoughts on these issues. My office is available to help coordinate a time for them to meet with you.
We have a number of additional resources available to the committee that we will go over in more detail later in this meeting. Briefly, these include:
- Context website and email;
- Context research document;
- Staff support; and
- UM centers and institutes.
In closing, I would like to reiterate the merit and significance of this committee and the work you are about to embark on. Our university has long been committed to honest and open dialogue about its history and how to make our campuses more welcoming and inclusive. As part of the university’s role in transforming lives and communities, we must successfully come to grips with difficult aspects of our history. It is a continuing journey to learn from this history and be a national model for moving forward. The CACHC is the next step in that journey.
I am happy to answer any questions before I turn things over to Dr. Cole and Ms. Flenorl.
Reflection and Unity Opening Remarks –July 21, 2016
Welcome and thank you all for coming.
It has been an extremely difficult month in the U.S. as we have witnessed the loss of lives in Orlando, my home state of LA, MN, and TX.
We also join the world community in mourning recent deaths in France and Turkey.
I am sure that many of you, like Sharon and me, have found yourselves in conversations — around family tables, in restaurants, in churches, and in other gathering places — struggling to make sense of what we have seen and the pain we feel.
No one, especially our African American citizens, should live in fear of discrimination, bias, or social injustice.
And law enforcement officers cannot be gunned down in the streets that they serve and protect.
Gatherings planned in peaceful solidarity should not be turned into killing fields.
We all hurt, we all mourn with those directly affected, and we all worry every day about the safety of our own families, our communities, our nation, and the world.
I want to thank the Sensitivity & Respect Committee, led by Dr. Donald Cole, for the opportunities I’ve had to meet and interact with them — and especially for developing a strong statement condemning the recent violence and calling for civil dialogue to address the issues at hand.
All leaders in our university stand in full solidarity with this statement. We are committed to ensuring that our university fulfills its role
- as a catalyst for healing,
- for convening important conversations, &
- for working together to find sustainable solutions.
I’m also grateful to our LOU community leaders who share in that commitment. Here tonight is Mayor Pat Patterson, and Pres. LC Board of Supervisors Jeff Busby will be arriving during the ceremony.
I also thank the members of the university senior leadership team here today — esp. Provost Morris Stocks, Dr. Donald Cole, Vice Chancellor Brandi Hephner LaBanc, Vice Chancellor Alice Clark, and AD Ross Bjork — for developing our program tonight.
Tonight’s event is focused upon reflecting and uniting.
From here we will begin the important community conversations to move forward.
But for now, we must mourn together. We must heal. We must lend each other support and comfort.
We must have empathy and understanding for each other’s perspectives — to bring people together, not to divide.
We must stand together, work together to find lasting solutions to the challenges that we face together.
Higher education has a crucial role to play. I myself entered university leadership, because I am absolutely passionate about the transformative power of Higher Ed.
Nothing is more important to the future of our society, our livelihoods, our communities than education, especially Higher Education.
- Through education, we combat ignorance,
- Education is teaching people figuratively how to fish so that they can achieve for themselves rewarding lives, families, and self-respect.
- Education is key to healing and to finding ways to prevent future acts of violence.
- Our most valuable tool is civil dialogue. But dialogue must lead to change. Change starts in the hearts and minds of individuals.
Change will happen not from the top down, but
- from within,
- with participation from across our university community,
- when we reach out and work together.
And we must and will work together to make “inclusion and respect for others” a priority for everyone. We have excellent resources, programs, and expertise on our campuses to guide those conversations and improve our communities
In the coming weeks, I will be calling upon our
- William Winter Institute,
- Sensitivity & Respect Committee,
- Center for Inclusion & Cross-Cultural Engagement and others on campus to suggest programs for the fall semester.
I hope that every person who feels pain, fear, or confusion by these troubling events will reach out to fellow members of the university family and access the resources that are available. Check in with your friends and colleagues and reach out to see if you can help and offer assistance.
More than anything, the UM Creed must guide our way. By following the Creed, we can be a model for our nation/world on how to move forward. We must heal locally so that we can lead globally.
In closing, I want to make some brief personal comments.
As Sharon and I were making our decision to become a part of this community, this family, we thought about what really matters to us. We were making what we intend to be the last move of our professional lives, and we wanted to get it right.
We both believe deeply in the unique value and worth of every individual and every viewpoint. We also believe deeply in the principles of fairness and justice. We want to live in a place that elevates the voice and contribution of everyone in an atmosphere of mutual respect. We want to be part of a place where empathy, communication, and genuine caring are the very fabric of the community.
We found that place here. We chose this treasured place as our home. The UM Creed is our personal Creed.
By following the Creed, we can have the difficult but respectful discussions we must have as a family, a community, and a country.
- As individuals, we may not have the answers to this difficult chapter in our country’s life.
- But as an interdependent community, we will find the answers.
Thank you all again for caring and for being here tonight.