Only six people asked Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter questions during the first university-wide town hall meeting on Monday which attracted more than 100 attendees, but the queries touched on several controversial campus issues.
Students and faculty questioned Vitter about increased enrollment, the removal of Confederate anthem “Dixie” from football games this year, the removal of the state flag on campus in 2015, increasing international engagement on campus and growing the university’s endowment to reach the $1 billion goal.
Vitter asked that attendees share their views and suggestions about topics like academic excellence, healthy and vibrant communities, athletic excellence, and people, places and resources.
One freshman asked if “students will ever be allowed a voice in the song ‘Dixie’ ever being played.”
Vitter said unanimous agreement between athletics leadership, senior administration, the Associated Student Body, alumni and the band in 2015 discontinued playing of the song.
“I respect the process that it went through and the decision that athletics made,” Vitter said. “People love Dixie. It’s a beautiful song. For some people, it evokes pride, as it does for me. For some people, it can be hurtful. Let’s create the right culture and the right songs that bring us together and move us forward.”
One participant from the audience talked about the need to grow endowment funds to $1 billion and asked, “What steps need to be taken to reach that goal?”
Vitter said for five years in a row the university has made a great accomplishment in raising more than $100 million, but that a lot of those funds have gone to infrastructure needs.
“Building buildings are immediate uses of that money as opposed to going to an endowment, which through interest churns out funds each year,” Vitter said. “I personally would hope that we can build up our endowment to a higher level in that billion dollar range.”
Students were asked to write down improvements they saw for each category and how to make those ideas a reality. These suggestions were taped to whiteboards on all sides of the room, and Vitter said the suggestions will be posted online later.
Allen Coon, a junior public policy major, asked two questions about student voices in the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context and about the expansion of mental health and psychological services for LGBTQ students on campus.
Though the goal of the town hall meeting was to create an open dialogue with students, Coon said he did not feel his questions were adequately answered.
According to Coon, students are not properly represented on the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context because one of the two students who serve, Shawnboda Mead, is on staff at the university. Associated Student Body President Austin Powell is the other student who serves on the committee.
“I have the utmost respect for Austin Powell’s abilities to present the concerns of students on campus, ” Coon said. “However, he lacks certain expertise that is essential to be a part of that committee that Chancellor Vitter has emphasized. I feel like without adequate student representation, we are not being involved fully within the context that is going to affect not only students currently residing at our university but also alumni and future University of Mississippi students.”
Junior business management major John Adair attended the meeting as part of his EDHE class. He said even though we are part of a great university, there is always room to improve.
“Even if it seems that everything is great, improvement can be made all the time, such as making more parking for students, creating more interaction between students, faculty and staff so students can give feedback and opinions and creating more ways for students to find out about events or activities on and off campus,” Adair said.
Vitter said the ideas discussed during the meeting will improve the university. Private funds will go toward special projects like a new Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics building and new children’s hospital wing that is intended to revolutionize and expand the neonatal ICU at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Private support is what make these projects possible.
Vitter said he was excited about the turnout and that concrete ideas were compiled because they will become the goals that drive the university over the next five years.
According to Vitter, town hall meetings will be held periodically in the future as a way to receive quality input, especially for the Advisory Committee on History and Context.
“You get the full richness of ideas,” Vitter said in an interview after the meeting. “You can see what resonates among people by the frequency and the passion in which those ideas come forward. That’s the real value of this activity. It taps into the wisdom of the entire community.”