John Touloupis: You’ve now been Chancellor for a little over nine months, talk about how life in Oxford has been and what’s the community like?
Chancellor Vitter: Being from New Orleans, I knew I would be right at home with the people, the food, the attitudes and especially the weather. Even with those expectations, it has been amazing how quickly Sharon and I have felt at home, how quickly we became part of the Ole Miss family. Over the last 34 years, we have been fortunate to live and serve in a number of great university communities, but there is something really special about Ole Miss and Oxford.
JT: Coming in, what were some of the goals you want to achieve?
CV: My priority coming in was to listen and engage in conversation with university stakeholders — students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends. I wanted first-hand insight on the state and momentum of the university. So I embarked on a 100-day listening tour called the Flagship Forum where I interacted with over 200 groups on campus, and around the state and country. We talked about how to take this university from great to greater, how to move to the next level of excellence while at the same time upholding those things that are the heart and soul of our excellence. I gained great perspective on what it means to be an Ole Miss Rebel and what it means for UM to be the flagship university in the state.
JT: What do you feel have been big accomplishments and improvements already?
CV: I had a pretty good first day on the job: we won the Sugar Bowl in my hometown NOLA!
And every day since then has been pretty busy! We have carried on the work of Drs. Khayat and Jones in addressing pressing matters about how we continue to make this campus more diverse, inclusive and welcoming.
In June, we had a university-wide retreat with the leadership teams from the Oxford campus and University of Mississippi Medical Center campus in order to develop big, bold collaborative ideas that capitalize on our expertise and strengths so that, as a university, we can maximize the full range of our talents in health, education, science and engineering, the arts, humanities, entrepreneurship, business, and law.
In August, we held a Tech Summit that brought to campus numerous government, business, and academic leaders in technology, primarily telecomm, to explore advances on the horizon and ways that universities can help industry meet its new workforce demands and spur entrepreneurship.
And we held the first-ever, university-wide Town Hall with about 300 members of the university community to open a dialogue about a shared vision for the university’s future. We had tremendous energy with over 450 strategic ideas shared. These ideas will be the foundation for our strategic planning efforts going forward.
JT: What has been more challenging than you anticipated – on the flip side, what’s been easier?
CV: Having a broad range of experiences at a number of excellent universities has really prepared me to guide this university to its next level of greatness. I came to Ole Miss to spend the rest of my career making a difference leading one of the finest flagship institutions in the country. In many ways, my job has been both easier and more challenging because of the passion people have for this great institution. But I have found that as long as I stay committed to honest and transparent communication and true to the UM Creed, we will be a place that elevates the voice and contribution of everyone in an atmosphere of mutual respect and we can address the challenges facing us as a family and a community.
JT: You have a great history in tech, and recently Ole Miss hosted a Tech Summit with US Sen. Roger Wicker and other tech leaders, what are your plans for Tech/Computer Science/Engineering at Ole Miss?
CV: With our STEM building underway, we are poised to be a global leader in STEM education.
We will establish a multidisciplinary research and education program in data science, data analytics, big data, cybersecurity, and precision medicine. But as Walter Isaacson explains, it is important to recognize that the intersections of arts and sciences, humanities and technology is where truly creative innovations emerge. Ole Miss is a jewel because of our comprehensiveness and the rich interplay between disciplines. We will fully explore the humanities-technology connection and nurture the interplay among science, technology, social studies, humanities, and the creative arts.
JT: What direction do you want to see the campus moving forward?
CV: We will continue to build upon our flagship status to deliver the very best academic programs at a competitive price and provide all qualified Mississippi students educational opportunities. We will achieve these goals by attaining greater levels of academic and athletics excellence; undertaking initiatives that build healthy and vibrant communities, both locally and globally; and utilizing the expertise of our people, our campuses, and our resources to transform the lives of those around us.
JT: Okay switching gears now, I have a lightning round set of questions. Favorite Food?
CV: Oyster loaf, dressed.
JT: Favorite Movie:
CV: A tie between Music Man with Robert Preston & Shirley Jones and the original La Cage aux Folles with Ugo Toganazi & Michel Serrault.
JT: Is the Grove the best tailgating experience of your life?
JT: If you weren’t Chancellor of Ole Miss, what would be your dream job:
CV: Food critic.
JT: What’s on your playlist:
CV: George Jones and Van Morrison.
JT: Interesting hobbies:
CV: I’m our family genealogist. In our online family database on Vitter.org, we have entries for about 14,000 people — some of whom are actually related to me.
JT: Favorite place to go in Oxford:
CV: Anywhere on or around the Square.
JT: Favorite Ole Miss Jersey Combination:
CV: From Sugar Bowl 2016, my first day on the job: Powder blue helmet, white shirt with red stripes, and gray pants.
JT: Do you think we can beat Alabama:
CV: To quote Katy Perry from her 2014 appearance as the celebrity guest picker on ESPN’s College GameDay, “I pick Ole Miss, come on!”