It’s been three months since Jeff Vitter announced he would leave his role as Chancellor of the University of Mississippi, leaving behind a legacy which could best be described as tattered.
A tenure marred by declining enrollment, the prohibition of the playing Dixie at football games, the removal of the state flag from university property, and NCAA sanctions could leave little to the imagination as to why people seemed to always be asking, “What’s going on at Ole Miss?”
In Vitter’s departure, both conservative and progressive students who were displeased with his leadership rejoiced in the notion that the university could restore its stature. Yet to date nothing has changed.
Larry Sparks, who took over as Chancellor following Vitter’s resignation, has indicated that the extent of his interest in the role extends only to keeping the seat warm for whomever the Institutions for Higher Learning selects. But it still remains unclear as to who that may be.
The question Ole Miss grapples in the selection of its leadership is one which has consistently been asked throughout all actions undertaken by the university: What exactly is Ole Miss and what does it want to become?
If you were to ask students and alumni, the vast majority would say they treasure Ole Miss as a bastion of southern heritage and tradition, seeking its preservation for future generations to enjoy. However, if you were to ask university faculty that sentiment would rarely be echoed, if at all. It is this disconnect which has led Ole Miss to where it finds itself today.
A faculty comprised of out-of-state academics which insist it undertake self-flagellation in repentance for existing in a place which high minded costal liberals deem reprehensible cannot coexist with the interests of those the university is meant to serve. It is with this knowledge that Vitter built the legacy which would eventually destroy him, acting to intentionally subvert democracy under the pretext that any change presented with indignation is inherently good.
The nature of all organizations is that those who are held responsible for its decisions are held responsible for its culture. When the organization is one which has a mission to serve, the culture should exist in service of the values and interests of its constituents.
For Ole Miss to find a chancellor who can properly serve the community is one who can understand a clear definition of Ole Miss and remain committed to its values. The next leader doesn’t necessarily have to be from Mississippi, but he or she definitely can’t be against Mississippi and expect to lead successfully.
Ole Miss finds itself at a moment of definition where it may move beyond its fatigue and capitalize on its potential as a university to attract and retain world class talent to Mississippi.
The last two Chancellors at Ole Miss have left much to be desired before an early departure from their roles. All eyes will be on the next leader, because a large contingent of the Ole Miss faithful know the school is on very thin ice today.