I dare say there is likely no person who has achieved a college degree who could not readily identify a professor who played a pivotal role in her or his success. Thus, I am honored to identify myself as your faculty colleague first, then as your chancellor. Having been on the job almost a month, I invite you to visit with me at upcoming Flagship Forums (further explained later in this letter) to give you an overview of my first month, to make a few observations on the state of the university, and to seek your input as we work together to lift this great university to even greater heights.
Sharon and I are proud to be new residents of the University of Mississippi and Oxford communities. It is easy to see why UM consistently ranks highly among the best college environments in which to work. Its warmth, inclusiveness, and genuineness shine through every facet of the faculty, staff, students, and alumni. The energy and sense of community we have felt in this first month exceed that of any other campus where we have lived and served.
Nothing is more important to the future success and vitality of society than higher education. It has a transformative power on people and their well-being and helps us to find the “better angels of our nature,” as President Lincoln so aptly noted. Like many of you, I have spent my life in the academy and am passionate about its power to transform and elevate.
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 you: the rich tradition of academic excellence, the dedication to transformative service, and the commitment to accessibility — 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 crucial that we reflect upon what has brought UM to its current state of excellence: 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, vice provosts, deans, chairs, and directors. In my first three weeks, I’ve seen why you rank confidence in senior leaders highly in the Chronicle of Higher Education survey. 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 serve the university’s needs and how to bring forward the values and objectives to guide our efforts. To start the conversation, I identified some interconnected objectives, developed from my reading about the university and conversations with you:
- 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, ideas, 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.
During this semester, I am embarking upon a comprehensive listening and learning tour. As a core value, I believe deeply in engaging the entire university community so that the best ideas come forward. Through a number of “Flagship Forums,” I will be visiting with faculty, staff, students, alumni, business leaders, public leaders, and friends.
My overarching goals for these forums are simple. I want to get to know you better and, through you, get to know UM better. The priority of the first forums will be in the areas of academics and students. I look forward, with your help, to learning a great deal about UM in a short time. I am very interested in your perspectives on what makes us great and what makes us distinctive.
I am also very interested in beginning a dialogue with you about what could make us even greater. I want to hear your thoughts on what I can do as chancellor to help you sustain and advance the excellence that is so apparent throughout the layers of our university. I will be looking for opportunities to engage with you directly, and I encourage you to do the same.
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 community. Anyone who has ever been in higher education knows that it is a calling, not a job. Thank you for answering that call. I look forward to a conversation with you soon.
Jeffrey S. Vitter
Chancellor and Distinguished Professor