Having been on the job as chancellor almost a month, I am truly thankful for both your support and for your passion for Ole Miss. It has been a great start to a new semester. Evidence of excellence is everywhere across our historic campus and your support is an important factor in that excellence. With a dominating Sugar Bowl victory on my first day in office, followed six days later by the opening of the fantastic new Pavilion at Ole Miss, Sharon and I quickly got into the Ole Miss spirit.
It is easy to see why the University of Mississippi consistently ranks highly among the best college environments in which to work. The energy and sense of community Sharon and I have felt in this first month exceed that of any other campus where we have lived and served. We are proud to be new residents of the UM and Oxford communities.
We are also among the newest lifetime members of the Ole Miss Alumni Association! We know and appreciate the value of our alumni in all that we do within the university. We recognize that you are our most visible and dedicated ambassadors. With our alumni in all parts of the world, we can say with confidence that the Ole Miss family has a global impact each and every day. I pledge to do all we can to support a robust and active alumni association.
While we live in challenging times, the simple truth remains that nothing is more important to the future success and vitality of society than higher education. It has a transformative effect on people and institutions, which is why Sharon and I have spent our entire adult lives in university settings. One of the lessons you readily learn in a campus setting is that higher education is a team sport. The most successful universities are those with collaborative and interdependent teams of people who are all focused on common goals. I am especially impressed with the strong sense of pride and passion from our alumni and friends.
I want to explain to you why Sharon and I enthusiastically accepted the invitation to join this very special university. The reasons are probably the same as those that attracted many of our faculty and staff and that inspire your investment and support: the rich tradition of academic excellence and the dedication to transformative service — in short, because we can make a real difference here in educating leaders and improving lives. As I learned more, I was also impressed by the strong sense of community pride and focus upon student success. We made this move because we believe we can contribute to the goals around which you are already rallied.
As we begin a new era together, it is appropriate to reflect upon those things that have brought UM to its current state of excellence, one of which is superlative leadership. Former chancellors Robert Khayat and Dan Jones embraced academic excellence as the polestar of their vision and commitment. Their accomplishments are unparalleled in the university’s history. As interim chancellor, Morris Stocks provided outstanding leadership, continuing our forward momentum; I’m delighted that Morris is continuing on as provost and executive vice chancellor. We have a strong tradition of shared governance and a talented group of vice chancellors, provosts, deans, chairs, and directors. I value this rich cadre of leaders and will draw upon their knowledge, experience, and dedication going forward.
During the process of seeking this position, I thought long and hard about how best to lead the university forward. To start the conversation, I identified some interconnected objectives, developed from my reading about the university and conversations with the UM community.
Advancing and accelerating academic excellence by (1) continuing to increase the value of a UM education, (2) continuing our “student-first” mentality by inspiring and challenging our most prepared students and by providing an accessible and affordable education to all qualifying Mississippi students, and (3) becoming a Very High Research University within the Carnegie Classification, which reinforces our flagship status and positions us to be an even stronger economic driver for our state and nation.
Fostering a diverse environment by creating a rich multicultural and inclusive climate for students, faculty, and staff, with an eye to our global society.
Serving Mississippi through sustained efforts to make our state and region a better place to live and be a visible leader in community engagement, innovation, and service.
Engaging globally to extend our reach and become a great public international research university by tackling grand challenges, building international ties, and educating leaders to prosper in a global society.
Collaborating and innovating by (1) promoting a spirit of teamwork and entrepreneurship and (2) adopting a clear strategic vision.
As a core value, I believe deeply in directly engaging the entire university community so that the best ideas come forward. During this semester, I am embarking upon a comprehensive listening and learning tour. Through a number of “Flagship Forums,” I will be visiting with you, our alumni, and with our faculty, staff, students, business leaders, public leaders, and friends.
My overarching goals for these forums are simple. I want us to really get to know one another, and through our interactions, I want to get to know UM better. I look forward, with your help, to learning a great deal about Ole Miss in a short time. I am very interested in your perspectives on what makes us great and what makes us distinctive.
I am especially interested in beginning a dialogue with you about what could make us even greater, about what our aspirations should be. I want to hear your thoughts on what I can do as chancellor to help us sustain and advance the excellence that is so apparent throughout our university. No one of us embodies all the truth or wisdom we need to advance UM. But the shared talents and voices of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and external partners can lift us to heights beyond our imagination.
I accept this role as your chancellor with humility and with an urgent sense of purpose. Thank you for your support — and thank you for what you do each day to transform lives and serve our communities. And remember, every voice matters. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.