/Vitter’s flagship vision sets Ole Miss on new course

Vitter’s flagship vision sets Ole Miss on new course

OXFORD — University of Mississippi Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter achieved something that no other leader of a university within the state has done: he appointed a vice-chancellor for diversity and community involvement. “For many years we have been working to create (such a position). Dr. Donald Cole is the assistant provost at the university. “Chancellor Vitter brought it forward to make it happen,” he says. Diversity is multifaceted — academics, race and profession are all components of diversity. Vitter says that it is in these areas that you can bring different ideas to make us an imaginative and innovative community. Katrina Caldwell (a native of Memphis) was elected inaugural vice chancellor to diversity and community engagement in October. She took office January 1. Caldwell was previously the assistant vice president for diversity & equity at Northern Illinois University since 2012. Vitter’s Flagship Forums discussed diversity with over 200 groups across the campus of the university and throughout the country during his 100-day tenure. Vitter was unanimously appointed by the Board of Trustees of Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning to succeed Dr. Dan Jones on October 29, 2015. He took office January 1, 2016. Vitter says, “Having been raised in New Orleans, I know that this university has a rich history and is well-known in a variety areas of Southern culture.” He knew he wasn’t an expert, so he used Flagship Forums to “listen” and “learn.” Vitter says, “We discussed as a group how we could become even more great… and what are so important that we cannot change it because it is vital to the university’s identity.” Many people were concerned about a crowded campus. The university population grew 1.7 percent to 24,250 in the fall semester. This includes students enrolled at the Oxford campus, 2,990 students at University Medical Center in Jackson, and approximately 1,500 on four regional campuses. This is the 22nd consecutive increase in University of Mississippi enrollment. The enrollment has increased by 40.5% over the past decade. Vitter says, “People want to keep that small university environment where people can get to know each other and interact close.” “We don’t want to grow significantly,” Vitter says. “The two areas that we need to grow in are graduate education and international studies.” Vitter says that it is important to maintain our Carnegie status as a top-tier institution. There are also national opportunities for graduate training. Vitter wants students to be better prepared for studying abroad, and to have a greater international presence on campus. He says, “It’s a mutual advantage of bringing global perspective on our campus and a great financial source of stability.” Vitter’s dedication to meeting the needs of faculty members and the entire university community was evident from the beginning, according to Dr. Brice Nonan, a biology professor who is also chairman of the university’s faculty senate. Noonan said that Vitter quickly learned about the strengths and challenges of the diverse faculty through direct interaction. The state’s ongoing reduction in general funds appropriations to public institutions for higher education is a challenge for all Mississippi public universities. Vitter says, “There is danger.” Vitter says, “We rely heavily on state funds to provide basic education. But we are moving ahead with our programs.” Vitter adds that “we look to other sources such as philanthropy or donors to fund programs that distinguish us from other intuitions.” Private donors make it possible for programs like the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Trent Lott leadership Institute to thrive. Vitter is positive about the future of programming. Vitter invited 18 chief executives of major technology initiatives to campus last fall to discuss ways the university could lead nationally in science technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The STEM building will be constructed on campus to allow faculty members to teach in the environments they need. Noonan says that he has been an open and communicative leader over the past year through his constant engagements with faculty and the faculty senator in particular. Noonan says that the recently launched Flagship Constellation Initiative demonstrates his openness and communication as a leader. It was introduced in Vitter’s investiture speech last fall. The initiative is an open and shared responsibility for university faculty and staff to attract and retain diverse faculty members to help the university be a leader in solving some of the country’s most pressing issues. Its goals are to: * Inspire cross-disciplinary research and creative achievement at UM to address key, large challenges where UM can lead; * Facilitate successful extramural funding proposals and partnerships; * Recruit top talent at UM, including staff and graduate students; * Create connections for the private sector that result in greater technology and economic development. Noonan explains that faculty from the medical school might propose products and pharmacy to cure diseases. They may also recommend the hiring of research scientists. Vitter’s immediate predecessors, Robert Khayat and Dan Jones, were well-respected on campus as well as among alumni. Khayat was a former student of the university and a professor at the law school. He led the university between 1995 and 2009. Khayat succeeded Jones, who was vice chancellor of health affairs, dean of School of Medicine, and Herbert G. Langford Professor of Medicine, at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Protests on campus and anger from supporters and alumni prompted the College Board to not renew Jones’ contract in 2015. Jones refused to sign a contract extension that he considered unacceptable. Khayat recalls that he used to wake up at 4:58 every morning and begin his day by writing personal letters to supporters and constituents of the university. Students, alumni, and supporters are more likely today to get an email from Chancellor Vitter, or to engage on social media. He is very well-adjusted to the digital age. This has allowed him to be introduced to the Ole Miss community. Vitter was previously the University of Kansas’ provost and executive vice-chancellor. Vitter was previously the provost and executive vice-president for academics at Texas A&M University, College Station. Vitter’s research interests include big data and data science, particularly the algorithmic aspects involved in processing, compressing, and communicating large amounts of information. He’s all about that cell phone. Khayat says that Khayat has done a better job keeping in touch with Ole Miss students than any other chancellor. Vitter says, “When there are over 24,000 students and faculty, as well as staff, it is difficult to interact with all of them on a daily basis.” Vitter says that transparency is essential and that he uses Twitter and Facebook to connect with UM family. Austin Powell, Associated Student Body President, said, “But transparency IS important and I use Twitter/Facebook as an opportunity to reach and connect with UM families.” Powell stated, “He entered the role with tact, dedication, and he still has the same eagerness for engaging with the student body.” David Sansing is a professor emeritus in history at Ole Miss. He says that Vitter’s chancellorship was instrumental in the university’s continued advancements. Sansing is also the author of Making Haste Slowly, The Troubled History of Higher Education In Mississippi, The University of Mississippi A Sesquicentennial History, and most recently Mississippi Governors. Soldiers, Scholars, Scalawags. “Khayat started to change Mississippi and its image. Vitter persevered through a difficult and challenging process and continues to lead efforts to improve the lives of African Americans, Latinos and Hispanics at Ole Miss. Khayat agrees. “Dr. Jones added on to that, and Dr. Vitter continues the same. I love Dr. Vitter’s innovative ideas and new approaches. Vitter says, “The momentum is growing…and it’s rewarding.” It’s an honor and a privilege to continue that tradition.” Vitter says, “We have been very fortunate to have some tremendous leadership at the university.” Editor’s Note: In 1997, the McDonnell-Barksdale Honors College was established thanks to an endowment from Jim Barksdale and his wife Sally McDonnell Barksdale. After Sally McDonnell Barksdale’s 2003 death, the honors college was renamed. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to the Spring Member Drive today. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. To ensure that our work is aligned with the priorities and needs of all Mississippians, we are listening to you. Click the button below to let us know what you think.