The third of four planned provost candidate open forums continued Tuesday, with Jeffrey Thompson presenting. Thompson focused on the future of the university, naming teamwork and student success as ways to continue bettering Ole Miss.
“You have a great thing going,” he said about the university. “You have a wonderful reputation, a fantastic background and a legacy of success from which we can build and continue to move forward.”
Thompson currently serves as the dean of the College of Science at the University of Nevada, Reno. There, he oversees the departments of biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics and the Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering. He also runs an active research program in experimental atomic and molecular physics.
Thompson cited “The Privilege of Being a Physicist,” the memoirs of physicist Victor E. Weisskopf, as a book that was influential in shaping his views on education.
“We have a great privilege to contribute and be involved in such a noble cause,” he said. “Think about students coming onto our campuses. They come to a place where they get to explore, where they get to learn about themselves and define their future. We get to be a part of that.”
Thompson said he thrives on interaction with students and faculty in order to figure out the best way to serve the university.
“I work on the adage of management by walking around,” he said. “I like to be engaged with the students, engaged with the faculty, being engaged with the community.”
Thompson stressed the importance of college as a time for self-growth.
“Maybe a student comes here with a passion for a subject, and then they get to find out many other things about themselves,” he said. “Then, they graduate and go on to do great things. They contribute to society, and they contribute to their profession. They love our university, and they become our legacy.”
Generational change was a key topic in Thompson’s speech. He is familiar with schools that attract many first-generation college students, much like Ole Miss.
“We’re their first experience with a university, and many of them are scared to death to be in college,” he said. “To see them walk across the stage, thinking about going to medical school or to Harvard or Princeton is a great thing. It’s this generational change we create that is part of the privilege we have.”
Thompson said teamwork is a crucial element to the success of a university.
“Public education is a team sport,” he said. “It’s not just one individual; it’s everybody. You have to know what the directions are, what the values are and what is defined as success.”
Education, scholarship, discovery and engagement were all values Thompson listed as vital to public higher education and ones he would work to push as the academic mission of the university.
Thompson also spoke about the future throughout his presentation, saying people should stop stressing about the long-term future.
“Your future is happening right now,” he said. “The students who just walked onto your campus a few weeks ago will hopefully soon be your alumni. They’re going to be your legacy.”
He said changes need to start now to better the university.
“Our future is defined by this moment,” he said. “We are constantly defined by what we do now, and it cannot wait. I’m not very good at saying what are we going to do next year or in 10 years because I know that those things are going to be defined by what we’re doing now.”
Thompson discussed the importance of faculty on a school’s legacy.
“The people who started now are going to be the ones who make you proud when they leave this university in 20-some years,” he said. “They need to know your expectations, your values and your concerns.”
While some audience members expressed concern about Thompson’s predominately science background, he reassured them he would advocate for all degree programs.
“I care about the diversity of curiosity,” he said. “People have very different passions and things that drive them. The value of a degree isn’t so much driven by your major as the experience you got as a student. It’s the whole university experience, and we all contribute to that.”
Athletics also came up in the discussion session, as Thompson talked about their importance in connecting people to their university.
“Athletics is a way to bind the student body and alumni base,” he said. “It takes the DNA of the university and spreads it across the country. If done well, it’s exceptional for the university because it makes the alumni base connected to the university and brings people in.”
Dan O’Sullivan, interim chair of the Department of Modern Languages, said he is pleased the university is holding these forums.
“It gives the wider university community an idea of what these people value,” he said. “It gives us a chance to ask questions and interact with them, and I think that’s very important.”