Members of the Lafayette County, Oxford and Ole Miss community filled the Gertrude C. Ford Ballroom at The Inn at Ole Miss on Wednesday afternoon to hear Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter give his “State of the U” speech at the university’s second annual town hall meeting. Vitter outlined his vision for the university by using four pillars: academic excellence; healthy and vibrant communities; people, places and resources; and athletic excellence.
To illustrate these four pillars, Vitter spoke on what he said are great things the university has accomplished.
“We’ve recently opened a new 150,000-square-feet School of Medicine building, which will have a tremendous impact on increasing the number of physicians in the state that has the lowest per capita number of physicians in the country,” Vitter said. “UMMC was recognized for being one of two telehealth centers in the nation.”
Vitter continued by outlining future programs to help the university succeed and build better relationships with the community and the state. He revealed his new initiative, “M-Partner,” which will allow students and faculty to showcase their academic talents by partnering them with cities across the state to provide solutions to community problems.
The chancellor said he hopes M-Partner will “enhance every aspect of community life, ranging from medicine and population health, engineering, education, arts and culture and law and public policy.”
The last vision he outlined was the results of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context. The committee concluded its 15-monthlong process to provide insight to certain historical buildings and monuments and help add context to those sites.
“The result of this process is that we are adding contextualization plaques and markers to nine sites on campus,” Vitter said. “Since one building’s namesake is Vardaman Hall, it was judged to be exceptionally at odds with our values. We will seek to rename it.”
Vitter concluded his speech by saying what he thinks is the definition of an Ole Miss Rebel.
“An Ole Miss Rebel is a rebel with a cause. As an innovator, a mentor, a teacher, a trend-setter and a leader, as members of the state’s flagship university, it means we stand up for one another and don’t hide from difficult discussions. It means we move forward together with a shared vision for the future.”
The meeting transitioned to a question-and-answer portion, in which members of the community were able to ask the chancellor and other administrators questions. Topics ranged from the current repairs on the Confederate statue and contextual plaque, the future programs Vitter outlined and even the recent decision to adopt the Landshark at the official Ole Miss mascot.
Someone who had previously served as the mascot asked if the Landshark would just be a repeat flop like the Black Bear seemed to be.
Ross Bjork, vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics, said the university will use the Landshark to “unify in a way that’s never been done before.”
By introducing his Flagship Forward initiative, Provost Noel Wilkin offered specific steps to accomplish Vitter’s vision. Wilkin built on the four pillars Vitter spoke of by giving specific examples for each pillar. Some of the examples include increasing research, fostering an intellectual environment, improving access to digital-immersive experiences and supporting academic success of student-athletes.
“It’s important for us to remember that we are poised for the next level of success,” Wilkin said. “Support the reason why you love the university, but come together for a common cause.”
Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill was in attendance.
“I think our university is thriving, and when one of us thrives, we both do. What’s good for Ole Miss is good for Oxford and vice-versa. I am so proud be an alumna of the University of Mississippi and proud to represent the city of Oxford,” Tannehill said. “I think that under Chancellor Vitter’s leadership and the others on the panel, the university is moving ahead at light speed. I think there are a lot of things to come in the future.”
Gregory Alston, former Associated Student Body president and Law School Student Body president, said that, as a lifelong Rebel, he really enjoyed the speech and said that the university is doing great things.
“I’ve always been the person who tries to be positive about our university, and we need to focus on the great things,” he said.
Others thought the changes the university is making will be beneficial for the future.
“I think the university has changed a lot, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I hope people will learn to understand each other and our diversity in the future,” Mary Lewis, a junior journalism major from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, said.
Tony Ammeter, associate provost and dean of general studies, said that under the plans outlined, he hopes to see increases in enrollment.
“It’s really good to see us focus on the things that make us great and to see everyone give input,” he said. “Over the next five years, I want to see the university reach 27,000 student enrollment.”