It has now been roughly 230 or so days since Jeffrey Vitter announced his resignation as Chancellor of the University of Mississippi, making him the first person ever to resign his post, and in turn triggering a leadership vacuum.
With the departure, both state and local media have spent a great deal of time talking about who is in the hunt for the chancellorship. Yet not much has been written or said about what the candidates want to achieve.
The question the IHL, students, alumni, and facility should be asking those who seek the chancellorship is not what’s on their resume but what does their Ole Miss look like?
The university finds itself at a critical juncture – between the solidification of the progressive academic movement, centered on political correctness and multiculturalism, that has dominated the school for the last few years –and the real kind of progress in terms of academic rigor and freedom, diversity of thought and speech, citizenship, enrollment, and culture.
Going into this next academic year, Ole Miss will no longer be under NCAA sanctions, will be entering into its second year of being in the top half of one percent of research institutions, and will still be healing from the wounds inflicted by the demonstrations (related to Confederate monuments) which took place last April.
If any man or woman earnestly seeks to carry this office with the style, grace, acumen, humility, and effectiveness of former chancellors, then that potential leader should be communicating a bold plan for the future of Ole Miss. Such a plan should not include following the modern script of the edutocracy. Today’s academies of higher education suffer from many self-imposed wounds. America is losing faith in the value of sending its next generation of civic and business leaders to college. Reversing that dangerous trend is going to require someone with a clear vison but also with the intestinal fortitude to withstand the slings and arrows of the higher education establishment.
The university needs now, more than ever, a chancellor who holds a deep reverence for the school’s traditions and institutions as well as the opinions of its students and alumni. This chancellor will need to possess practical ideas for turning around declining enrollment, for increasing the number of in-state students, for strengthening academic programs across the board, and for creating an environment where free expression is preserved and cherished.
Ole Miss has the potential to be far greater than a mere punchline in the jokes made by the state’s political class. All it really needs is strong leadership. We’ve been there before. But strong leadership is in such short supply, especially if that leader is also required to bring terminal degrees and a publishing pedigree.
The search of the next chancellor isn’t just about whether the IHL picks someone who is qualified. There is no shortage of well-credentialed, academic administration careerists. I’m sure the list of qualified candidates is long and distinguished.
The most important qualification right now should be about a candidate’s vision for Ole Miss. What can it become? What should its graduates know? What principals and ideas underpin the institution in such a way that a degree is unmistakably valuable and unique? The people of the state of Mississippi, the alumni, the faculty, the students, and even the world, await the results of this incredibly important hire.
So what will Ole Miss become?