This day marks the launch of a new website flagship.OleMiss.edu designed to memorialize and elevate the important conversations we are having across the university as part of the Flagship Forum we began at the start of this semester. It is my hope that this site will become a virtual “water cooler” (or in more modern parlance, perhaps a “Starbucks”), around which we can all gather to share information and inspire thoughtful discourse about the important challenges and opportunities before us.
Today marks my 60th day as your chancellor. In that time, Sharon and I have been welcomed around the entire UM community with a warmth that I can only describe as incomparable southern hospitality. We have met with countless groups and individuals throughout the state, and we have repeatedly reaffirmed that our decision to come to Ole Miss has been one of the best decisions of our lives. Thank you for your part in making our move so positive. We thank you for your visible passion for this great university and your dedication to fully embracing its legacy as the flagship institution for the state of Mississippi. We share that passion and commit ourselves to playing a transformative role in the destiny of UM.
The Flagship Forum was launched in late January as part of a 100-day listening and learning tour so that we could get to know one another better, as well as to accelerate a candid and meaningful dialogue about what makes our university excel and how we can move to that next level of excellence. All great institutions share a common drive to advance forward and be ever greater. In the last 30 days, I have met with 65 groups in the Forum setting. Over the next two weeks, I will meet with 22 more. Core questions guiding all of the Forum events have centered on (1) what is distinctive about our university that should never change as we move forward?, (2) what makes our university great?, and (3) how do we go from great to greater?
I would like to briefly distill what I have learned in these valuable meetings so far:
First and foremost we are defined by our Creed, the primary statement of our core values and mutual commitments to one another. I believe in the Creed, both as an individual and as your chancellor. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Inherent in our Creed is commitment to inclusion and diversity. The UM community is strong in its expressed desire to maintain the momentum reflected in Chancellor Jones’s open letter to the UM community in 2014. That momentum is equally important to me, and I am happy to report that we have initiated a search for a vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement to work in partnership throughout the campus community around diversity and inclusion. The person in that role will also serve as our chief diversity officer. We will move forward in that search with a sense of purpose; we will also engage a recognized search firm in the process to be sure we identify and hire the best person. We will continue to demonstrate progress and results on a regular basis with regard to other recommendations of the Extended Sensitivity and Respect Committee.
We are also defined by the constant quest for academic and scholarly excellence, a theme that has resonated throughout the Forum events thus far. Whether defined as creative achievement or competitive research, every part of our academic engine has pushed itself to achieve, a fact most recently reaffirmed by our first-ever designation as an R1 highest research activity institution under the Carnegie classification system. A number of our academic programs now sit squarely in the top 25 in the nation. These designations do not come without responsibility. As an R1 university and the home base of numerous exemplary programs, we must continue to realize the many responsibilities of a flagship institution — to train future leaders, to tackle grand challenges that face society, and to make our world a better place.
Thoughtful comments have been made in each Forum event about the need to balance our push for greater academic stature with our equally important role of community engagement and service to the state of Mississippi. Our academic accomplishments do little to advance us unless we also provide “on the ground” results that make our state and region better places to live. As we expand our view of the future, we must also keep primary our commitment to a personal “student first” mentality — for nothing is more important to the future vitality of our state and society than higher education and the opportunities it provides individuals of all backgrounds to better themselves.
I hope that you will follow the Flagship Forum as we continue to hear more from the university community. I will be updating you on a regular basis on continued Forum activities as well as other events unfolding this semester. My job as your chancellor is to put us in a position to achieve our goals. I desire your input in the coming months to create a compelling shared vision and key goals, so that next academic year we can, as a community, drill down on the goals to determine the strategies, actions, and milestones for moving forward. As phrased by former dean of Harvard Law School and Supreme Court justice Elena Kagan, “… what I’ve learned most is that no one has a monopoly on truth or wisdom. I’ve learned that we make progress by listening to each other….” I pledge to listen.
Jeffrey S. Vitter
Chancellor and Distinguished Professor