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What Kind of Person Should be Chancellor? Join the HottyToddy.com Conversation

The Lyceum. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications
The Lyceum. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

**Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles concerning University of Mississippi stakeholders and their opinions on which qualities the college board should prioritize in the search for the next chancellor. Join the discussion, send your thoughts to beth.harmon@hottytoddy.com

The search for the next chancellor of the University of Mississippi is causing many alumni, faculty and stakeholders to speak out about the qualities, leadership skills and focus they deem the most important as the Board of Trustees of Institutions of Higher Learning seeks to fill the job at Ole Miss.

The Ole Miss chancellor is not only one of the most influential voices in Mississippi but also in national higher education circles.

In a survey conducted by HottyToddy.com, most stakeholders agree that the next executive leader should be a visionary, a good communicator who listens, works well with the Board and campus, and who is able to balance the university’s traditions while being sensitive to diversity and determined to make the school renown for its educational practices. HottyToddy.com will publish more “Ole Miss voices” in coming days and weeks.

Jim Stephens, president of the Oxford Kiwanis Club, agreed that the next chancellor should understand Mississippi’s traditions, but specified that he or she should hold a degree from the Oxford campus.

“We need someone who truly loves Ole Miss, understands its rich traditions and will promote and maintain Ole Miss as the ‘Flagship University’ in our beloved State of Mississippi. We need a person with educational experience — a quality ‘People Person’ — someone who can represent our University in a professional manner,” he said.

Ed Meek, CEO and publisher of HottyToddy.com and former University of Mississippi employee agreed that the next chancellor should focus bringing the university to the forefront in the future.

“We need a visionary leader who can inspire the Ole Miss family and who focuses only on Ole Miss and the future. Most of all, the chancellor must listen, be able to work shoulder to shoulder with the Board of Trustees, alumni, faculty, parents, students, business and industry. Who would have ever though the largest store in the world (Amazon) would have no retail outlets? The future is going to be very different and we must have innovative and effective leadership to chart a course in the new world order.”

While the average university executive leader is nearing the end of his or her career, some stakeholders see a need for younger leaders to take hold of the reins. “We need a carefully vetted person, relatively young in his [or her] career, who has unrealized, but demonstrated potential for making Ole Miss a top-notch academic institution,” said Dr. Jerry Jordan, retired member of the music faculty.

Academic credentials are also a top priority in the next candidate, per some stakeholders.

“I would look for academic credentials – Ph.D, JD, MD or the like — mingled with an exhibited ability to lead others and to make rational, reasonable decisions,” said alumnus Carson Hughes of Jackson.

“Selecting a mature person of integrity and honesty who has demonstrated the ability to approach and to solve issues, if possible, in a manner that does not intensify the problem nor create new problems with the solution is very important. A background not entirely spent in the sheltered confines of pure academia might be of real value. Having a heart for young people is a must,” Hughes said, adding that “he would not foreclose consideration to a high-ranking military officer who met all of the qualifications.”

During the first series of public sessions on the Oxford campus, Ole Miss alumnae Steve Vassallo and Mary Riggs were the only speakers during the alumni discussion. Both agreed that the next chancellor should make the university as appealing as possible but offer different qualifications the college board should consider to ensure they found the right person to do the job.

Vassallo stated that it was important for the new chancellor to come from the Ole Miss because this would assure that he or she would respect the values and uniqueness of the university. “Our name, Ole Miss, should be an eternal branding of the school,” he said. “It took two centuries to develop this brand and it’s significant in this respect.” Vassallo also suggested that the new chancellor understand the Ole Miss culture and how to best continue carrying its image into the future. “It is critical that the chancellor adopt the economic development mission of the area as a core mission in an effort to attract quality instructors and employers to the area. If our graduates cannot find meaningful jobs, what’s the point in investing four years or more of life here? Assisting the city of Oxford and Lafayette County in recruiting more and better-equipped employers, to me, is extremely important,” Vassallo added.

Riggs addressed the Board and encouraged them to broaden their search and seek someone who will work to unify the Ole Miss community. “I don’t think you need to only look at people from Ole Miss,” she said. “I think the search should be wider because the faculty and students are now from very wide backgrounds geographically and in other ways.” Riggs said that Ole Miss needs a leader who will work to make the university more appealing to those living outside of the South. “I think we need someone more unifying, and I think we need to also get over the Civil War in respects to both racism and regional discrimination,” she said. “I hope for a broader, wider, more inclusive kind of leadership at Ole Miss.”

Alumni, faculty, students and other stakeholders will have another opportunity to voice their opinions on what the next chancellor should be like at the second series of Campus Listening Sessions on Thursday, August 20, at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. The first session is designated for students and will begin at 2 p.m. on the second floor of the UMMC Student Union Ballroom. A session for faculty and staff will follow from 3 to 3:45 p.m. and a final session for alumni will take place from 4 to 5 p.m.

The final Campus Listening Session series will take place on Thursday, August 27 at the University of Mississippi Campus in Oxford.

All discussions at both events will center on the qualities and qualifications stakeholders believe the next institutional executive officer should possess.

The public is asked to participate in an online listening session survey that will provide the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning with feedback on what qualities the public values in potential chancellor candidates. The survey can be found here, and it will be active until Thursday, August 27.

For more information on the search, visit the IHL website here. To be included in the public discussion being hosted by HottyToddy.com, send your comments to beth.harmon@hottytoddy.com.

HottyToddy.com staff report

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