Thank you to all our staff for another great start to a new semester! You keep us going 24/7, even when our students are away. Evidence of your good work is everywhere — from the ease and speed of class registration and the consistently high customer service across campus to the condition of our physical plant and the remarkable year-round beauty of our campus. (Isn’t it a wonder how the Grove is green again after the million-plus footprints in the fall?)
While the quality of the UM staff is widely acknowledged, it can never be said enough that this team is an indispensable pillar of the university. Sharon and I have lived our adult lives in a variety of campus environments. We know that the success of any campus starts with the quality of its staff, who on most occasions are the first campus representatives to recruit, engage with and serve students — as well as host alumni and guests. In essence, staff are the “first face” of UM and are crucial for creating a positive first impression.
Sharon and I are excited to be a part of the LOU community. In these first four weeks, we’ve been warmly welcomed with the tremendous Southern hospitality that characterizes Ole Miss. And we look forward to taking advantage of the insights offered through the “Welcome Home” program offered to newcomers!
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 power 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 community pride and student focus by the UM faculty, staff, and administration. In a recent meeting with Staff Council leaders, I had a chance to see firsthand the passion, energy, and vision that fuels UM’s engine every day. The collegiality and team spirit here are stronger than at any other university where we have lived and served.
UM has a strong record in support of its team members, and I assure you that my commitment to staff and faculty is equally as strong. We will work hard to sustain and enhance the commitment to recognize and reward staff and provide educational and career opportunities across the spectrum of the university.
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. 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 lead the university and bring forth 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.
Throughout this semester, I will be conducting a comprehensive listening and learning tour. As a core value, I believe deeply in directly 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 us to really get to know one another, and through our interactions, I want to get to know UM better. I ask for your help to learn 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, about what our aspirations should be. 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 our university. No one of us embodies all the truth or wisdom we need to advance UM. But the shared talents and voices of every member of the UM team can lift us to heights beyond our imagination.
I accept this role as your chancellor with humility and 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. And remember, every voice matters. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Jeffrey S. Vitter
Chancellor and Distinguished Professor