As spring bursts forth in vibrant colors all across our campuses, I have just celebrated my 100th day as your chancellor and the 75th as part of the Flagship Forum. I write today to report to you from “mile marker 100.”
In well over 100 Flagship Forum events to date, I have learned much about the University of Mississippi. I thank everyone who has advised me, welcomed me, and helped me better understand our great university. Special thanks go to those serving on the Chancellor Transition Advisory Committee, who have identified for me the highest immediate priorities (starting as the First Fives, but quickly expanded to the Energetic Eight!), helped me understand our history, culture, context, and aspirations, and created ways for me to connect immediately with the entire university community.
Mostly, I’ve learned that coming here was the best decision I ever made (other than marrying Sharon, of course!). Our family has become part of the Ole Miss family — fully and permanently. We’ve learned firsthand that the culture of hospitality for which UM is known is real and true. Sharon and I are so grateful to everyone who has welcomed us and made us feel at home.
Let me share a few other things I have learned in my first 100 days: I’ve learned that terms such as student-centric, academic excellence, accessibility, shared governance, diversity and inclusion, community engagement and service, and patient-centered care aren’t just words here. Rather, they shape our culture and define our essence. I’ve learned that our students can hold their own with anyone … anywhere. Our innovative and dedicated faculty choose to invest their talents here as teachers, researchers, mentors, scholars, and advocates. Our multitalented staff are indelibly engaged in our mission, and their pride is evident in every aspect of our operations. Our alumni are our “not so secret” weapon, and our high-caliber athletics program creates a powerful front door to the university.
I’ve learned that our academic medical center is a jewel for the state of Mississippi and provides the highest quality health care to all our citizens. Our Carnegie “R1: highest research activity” designation puts UM in the top 2.5 percent of universities nationwide. I’ve learned that our regional campuses are vital partners in the success of their communities. And on a lighter note, I have learned that you don’t have to go to New Orleans for great po-boys and crawfish; you can find them right here in Oxford and in right field.
Most importantly, I’ve learned that our UM Creed is a living commitment that shapes all we do. And we are a flagship university in the full sense of the term.
Without doubt, we truly are a great university. And all great institutions share a common resolve to get ever better. That resolve has come through loud and clear from my interactions during the events in the Flagship Forum.
As part of the Flagship Forum, we are posing a number of important questions relevant for moving forward: How do we go from great to greater? To what should we aspire? What distinctive elements about the University of Mississippi define our essence and must never change? Which directions and opportunities will best promote ascension to the next level of excellence?
As a starter for the conversations, we have focused on three broad topics: academic excellence, local and global impact, and investment in our one truly irreplaceable resource — the capacity offered by our people. On April 25, as part of the Flagship Forum, we will convene a universitywide town hall meeting in Oxford, with a live feed to UMMC and our branch campuses, to continue those conversations. Stay tuned for more details.
Going forward, we will complete the Flagship Forum and seize other opportunities to continue the important dialogue about our future. The next step we will undertake as a community is to distill those conversations into concrete plans and actions. I look forward over the coming academic year to engaging the university as a whole — including the Oxford campus, the UM Medical Center, and branch campuses — to craft an overarching vision and goals for the future of UM. That effort will be characterized by wide input, open involvement, and a resolve to move to the next level of excellence. In addition, I am excited to participate in the upcoming Rebel Road Trip next week, which will add the voices of our alumni to our discussion.
Beginning tonight at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts, we are honored to host Shakespeare’s First Folio — highlighting the role we play as a flagship university in Mississippi. And thanks to a gift from the Gertrude Ford Foundation, we have acquired a copy of Shakespeare’s Second Folio, allowing Shakespeare’s words, which have so shaped literature and human creativity, to go on permanent display in the J. D. Williams Library.
As Shakespeare penned in one of his timeless works, “we know what we are, but know not what we may be.” — Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5.
I am excited about our shared journey into the university’s future and encourage you to be an active participant as we go forward.
Jeffrey S. Vitter