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New UM Chancellor Vitter Creates Excitement

Dr. Jefffery Vitter was named the 17th Chancellor of The University of Mississippi by the Board of Trustees of Institutions of Higher Leaning Friday.

Vitter, formerly Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor at the University of Kansas, briefly outlined his vision of the future of the University of Mississippi, putting “the needs and best interest of students first and foremost.”

Chancellor Vitter said, “Ole Miss plays a crucial role in the cycle of innovation of our economy…solving the problems of our state and nation, making this a better place and in training future leaders and launching them in their careers”.

He said fostering an open, engaging and diverse environment that supports the growth of students and which will enhance the teaching, research and service mission of the faculty is critical “to enable faculty and staff to thrive and fully participate in the mission of Ole Miss.”

“We embrace the University’s role as a change agent in our state as we mold a future generation of leaders,” he said.

Hottytoddy.com contributor Steve Vassallo conducted this interview with Chancellor Vitter.

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I had the pleasure to visit recently with Dr. Jeffrey Vitter who has been given the responsibility to take Ole Miss to even greater heights. I am personally convinced that if Dr. Vitter cannot accomplish this goal, no one can. Here are excerpts from our conversation.

HottyToddy.com: Dr. Vitter, please share with our audience your process by which you will review the University’s strengths and weaknesses.

Chancellor Vitter: One of my core values is listening and learning. I will be meeting firsthand with students, faculty, staff and our external partners throughout the community. I will be building meaningful relationships. During the November-December time frame, I will be touring the state over a two-week period to accomplish this initial task.

HottyToddy.com: From the position of an outsider looking in, what do you see as the primary goals or mission of the University at this point?

Chancellor Vitter: What has been done and continuing to be done revolves around the students. Providing to them the innovation aspect that allows them to have successful careers and become leaders is fundamental. Being the flagship university, we must develop an innovative engine that creates new knowledge including discovery in all forms. We must draw (and attract) people throughout the state and beyond which is important to Mississippi and its prosperity.

HottyToddy.com: Higher education is undergoing dramatic change as more organizations are offering non-traditional programs in urban centers and on the Internet. Changes driven by the Internet seem to challenge the concept of a limited “campus” much like Wal-Mart is being challenged by online retailers such as Amazon. Given these changes, where do you see Ole Miss in 25 years?

Dr. Jeffrey Vitter with the IHL Board (to his right) and Athletic Director Ross Bjork (far right)
Dr. Jeffrey Vitter with the IHL Board (to his right) and Athletic Director Ross Bjork (far right)

Chancellor Vitter: The campus experience is relative to interacting with people and developing leadership. The campus has a great advantage. For example, studying abroad is a life-changing experience. We must be fully versed in the latest technologies. Things are changing fast in this world and our university’s involvement with strategic partners such as the Gates Foundation is essential.

HottyToddy.com: You have experienced first-hand schools with strong athletic programs particularly at Texas A&M. Do you see the importance of athletics continuing to grow?

Chancellor Vitter: I am a strong believer in the power of athletics. This is the front door to the University unlike Europe where the absence of athletics (to this degree) are thereby missing spirit, school loyalty and pride. Athletics stimulate fun bringing people to the University. It serves as an entertainment magnet. However, it must be managed well. And we have a great Athletic Director in Ross Bjork.

HottyToddy.com: Provide us a concise description of your future plans for Ole Miss.

Chancellor Vitter: I am interested in bringing the community together for a shared vision. A new capital campaign is needed in order to move to the next level of excellence. We constantly must be getting better. I intend for us to have an educational process that is vibrant and effective as possible while at the same time managing our resources.

HottyToddy.com: Ole Miss alums are quite passionate about the southern traditions and heritage that define this great university. Your thoughts?

Dr. Jeffrey Vitter with his wife, Sharon.
Dr. Jeffrey Vitter with his wife, Sharon.

Chancellor Vitter: I grew up in the Deep South. The heart of my identity is being a Southerner. The university must be a forum for ideas and dialogue. I am happy to see that the students and faculty have started a process to address these concerns and I am encouraged by the respectful manner in which they have done so. Our focus will be to move forward while honoring the past and attracting peoples from around the world.

HottyToddy.com: Ole Miss through the years has developed an image of being an intense party school. Is this a positive, negative or something that is not even on a Chancellor’s radar?

Chancellor Vitter: There are analogies between athletics, social life and building loyalties. But there are also risks involved. Student affairs are very important without negative repercussions. Greek life is a big part of Ole Miss and as a positive contributor must accept responsibility very seriously. We want to insure a very vibrant student social environment that is respectful while advocating diversity and embracing the university’s creed.

HottyToddy.com: And last but not least, the change of mascots previously from Colonel Reb to the Black Bear (Rebel) has not been well accepted by either alums or students. Is this an issue that needs to be revisited?

Chancellor Vitter: There has been a process all along. I do not know enough (at this time) about the Rebel Bear to actually comment. However, I see the “Landshark” everywhere. Certain changes were needed. Going forward while embracing the University of Mississippi’s Creed will reinforce core values and making the way a lot clearer.

Note from Vassallo: “Dr. Vitter’s comments were paraphrased for the most part, but hopefully, we conveyed accurate descriptions and his views on the aforementioned topics. The gentleman is impressive! Balancing all of the varying interests and passions that accompany this university is close to herding cats. Dr. Vitter may be known as the ” Lion King” one day or even more as the lion tamer. I believe he possesses the wherewithal to do just that.”

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