Next MSU President: Passion And Longevity

The Mississippi IHL Board's Mississippi State University presidential search committee was on the campus of Mississippi State University Monday from 7:45 am to about 6:00 pm listening to various representatives of the Mississippi State family speak their minds about what type person they want as the next MSU president.

The day's activity included hearing from twelve different groups of people ranging from 1) MSU Vice Presidents to 2) Deans and Associate Deans, from the 3) Faculty Senate Advisory Group to the 4) Professional and Support Staff Advisory Council. Other groups included 5) Academic and Non-Academic Department heads, 6) General Faculty, 7) Bulldog Club Board of Directors, 8) the Division of Agriculture, 9) MSU Alumni Association Board of Directors, 10) MSU Foundation Board of Directors, the 11) the regular Student Body and the Student Leaders for both Undergraduate and Graduate, and 12) MSU Alumni, Community Leaders and the General Public.

Although I didn't attend the five morning sessions, I did attend all seven of the afternoon sessions. The total attendance for those seven sessions was in the 170 to 200 range.

I'll list each session that I attended by group with an approximate number of people in attendance. I'll point out the pertinent things mentioned during each session.

Points of Interest:
IHL Board member Scott Ross, the head of the search committee, mentioned that the committee hopes to have the next president hired no later than mid to late-fall. As to when that person starts to work will depend on his or her current position. He also said a search consulting firm will be hired within a couple of weeks and the on-campus search advisory committee will be selected within two weeks. The committee will include a member of each group of MSU constituencies from the groups listed above. He also mentioned that the IHL Board has a search process website set up that explains the process and where you can email any member with your input. The website address is

The Bulldog Club Board of Directors (15 people)

This session was more blunt and to the point than any of the others that I attended other than the MSU alumni and general public session.

Points brought up by the BC BOD:

  • There should be a quick and efficient process that is more transparent than past searches. A human face needs to be put with the resume as soon as possible.
  • The MSU alumni don't have much confidence in the past process and hopes the IHL Board learns from past mistakes.
  • There is a certain lack of trust of the IHL Board among MSU folks. What is meant by that is there is an underlying mistrust among MSU folks that they won't get what they want from the search.
  • Please listen to all MSU constituencies.
  • The search will have to be a healing process due to how fractured the MSU community currently is.
  • Happy to see the search committee coming to MSU to listen to a cross section of the MSU family.
  • IHL Board accessibility is very important during the process.
  • It was brought up that Southern Miss got a family member when their president was recently selected. Also brought up by another director that Ole Miss' Robert Khayat, an Ole Miss person, has done a great job for Ole Miss because that is where his heart is. There has to be someone like that out there somewhere for MSU.
  • MSU Athletic Director Greg Byrne and MSU Vice President for Development and Alumni John Rush both said they would share their databases with the board so that they could communicate with the MSU family during the process.
  • MSU is about to have its 5th president in 18 years. Would like to see the next one be here for 18 years.

    Qualities the BC BOD would like to see in the next president:

  • Should be a great fund-raiser and communicator who understands MSU is no longer just a state-assisted institution.
  • Has to commit to a long-term relationship with the university (6 to 10 years at least) and not be someone who will only be at State for just two or three years.
  • Would like it to be, if at all possible, someone from within the MSU family.
  • Understand the politics of Mississippi State and be committed to all aspects of the university.
  • Be fiscally responsible and understand the funding of the university.
  • Do a good job of intergrating the institution with the city of Starkville.
  • Wants the president to be appreciative of what athletics do for the university and understand that athletic funds need to go directly to athletics.
  • Work well with the legislators.
  • Hire the best teaches to make MSU the best university that it can be.
  • Find someone who has a passion and love for the university.
  • Should be able to walk into a room and everybody sees him or her as a leader.

    IHL Board Committee Responses:

  • Southern Miss and Alcorn are pretty pleased with their current presidents that were hired due to the new search process.
  • There is now a website available that shows where the search process stands. People can email their input at any time via this website.
  • Instead of a maximum of 5 candidates, as was part of the process last time, 5 will be the minimum this time.
  • The committee will not do like they did last time and hire someone one day and present him or her to the campus groups the next day. The next president's name will be put out via an announcement. Then there will be a period where folks can find out more about the candidate prior to him or her being brought to campus.
  • There needs to a unified MSU family speaking with different voices.
  • When asked if a non-academic person would be considered, the answer was yes.

    Professional and Support Staff Advisory Council and Staff Members (35 people)

    Qualities of President:

  • Have leadership skills and understands staffing needs and shows care to those needs.
  • Understand the importance of working with the branch campuses of MSU.
  • Be committed to the digital assets that MSU has, including adding a Chief Information Officer who has budgetary authority.

    Division of Agriculture (35 people)

    Qualities of President:

  • Understand the importance of MSU being a Land-Grant institution.
  • Hire someone who will be able to heal the university.

    IHL Board Response:

  • Understanding the importance of MSU being a Land-Grant university should be a part of the job description.

    MSU Alumni Association Board of Directors and Former National Presidents (15 people)

    Points Brought Up:

  • The last couple of searches have resulted in marriages that were more like arranged marriages than real marriages.
  • We need to be financial competitive so that we can hire a quality president.

    Qualities of President:

  • Wants the president to be someone committed to MSU and be around 10 years or longer. Longevity is a big concern.
  • Be a member of the MSU family.
  • MSU needs a president who can put his or her arms around the MSU family and rally them.

    IHL Board Responses:

  • Should be financial competitive with salary thanks to a supplement by the MSU Foundation.

    MSU Alumni, Community Leaders, General Public (35 people)

    Qualities of President:

  • Be someone who loves and has a passion for the university.
  • Want someone who has MSU ties and will be president for a long time. Don't make us an elephant graveyard.
  • Want a leader who is a people person and not on an ego trip.
  • Give us a president who wakes up every morning who can't wait to come to work.

    MSU Foundation Board of Directors (15 people)

    A lot the same points brought out in the Bulldog Club Board of Directors session were brought out in this one as well, so I'm skimming over it.

    Qualities of President:

  • The person should be research oriented.

    MSU Students and Student Leadership (35 people)

    Points Brought Up:

  • One student brought up that Ole Miss has had their president for over a decade while he has been a student at MSU under three different presidents. (He served in the military for a few years.)
  • One student said since the IHL Board search committee won't mention the names of the candidates would they be willing to provide some type information on them such as what field they are in, if they are currently a president. The members that answered seem to evade his answer or never fully understood what he was asking.
  • Current interim president Vance Watson has done a good job of mending the wounds caused by the former president, but we need someone more long-term.
  • Set up a discussion board pertaining to the presidential search where questions and rumors can be posted so that the IHL Board committee can answer them.
  • Make the search much more transparent.

    Qualities of President:

  • A person who cares about other people.
  • A person who is interested in and respects the students and faculty.
  • Has a passion for MSU.
  • Wants to be at MSU for a long time.
  • Someone who wants to see the university grow.
  • A person who doesn't see MSU as his plan B.
  • Someone who puts the university above himself.

    IHL Board Responses:

  • Will look for someone who is capable of doing the job, preferably a sitting president.
  • The desire is to have a controlled search, not a secret search.

    At the conclusion of one of the last sessions, three members of the IHL Board Search Committee (Tom Meredith, Aubrey Patterson, Amy Whitten) pointed out these things that they feel MSU folks want from their president this go around after listening to the various groups.

  • A person who has a passion for MSU.
  • A person who wants to be at MSU for a long time.
  • Understands the importance of MSU being a Land-Grant institution.
  • Bring the various groups together.
  • Be a great listener as well as a great communicator.
  • Be a great fund-raiser.
  • Be someone who has run a complex setting such as MSU.

    My opinion of what I saw and heard during the listening sessions.

    1) MSU folks are tired of having short-term presidents who don't have MSU in their heart. They want a person with a passion for MSU who wants to be at MSU for a long time. Those are the two things at the top of their list of qualities. They also want a person who is a people person who leaves his ego at the door. He should be a listener, a communicators and a person who can raise funds with the best of them.

    2) Some students and faculty members are still upset with former president Doc Fogelsong and don't want another president like he was.

    3) There is still a lot of mistrust among several factions of the MSU family due to what has gone on in previous searches. They don't feel MSU was given a fair shake and that concerns them this time around.

    4) The IHL Board committee members seemed to be sincere with their comments. Despite the long day, they kept their concentration thoughout all the meetings. The committee members who spoke up the most were Scott Ross, Amy Whitten and to a lesser extent Tom Meredith and Aubrey Patterson. While they all appeared to be sincere, I came away impressed with the way Whitten handled herself. She seemed very sincere with her questions and answers.

    5) While the committee said the process will be much more open this time around, they emphasized that the names of candidates will not be made available to the general public, but they also emphasized that the on-campus search advisory committee members will know the names of the candidates and will be able to ask them questions. That is the avenue MSU folks can have input.

    6) Every committee member that spoke about MSU said they understand the importance of MSU as a Land-Grant institution and its importance to the state of Mississippi.

    7) The board members, based on their comments near the end of the sessions, know without question what the MSU community wants in their next president.

    8) At the conclusion of their session with the MSU Foundation Board of Directors, the IHL committee members, including Tom Meredith, thanked the Foundation for all that they do. They said without it, they couldn't be financial competitive.

    9) Remember this is my opinion, but I really think several members of the MSU family let the IHL Board committee members know who they want as MSU's next president without directly naming him. And in my opinion that man is Mark Keenum. Many MSU people think of him as our Robert Khayat. Did they catch the references as a group? I really don't know, but I strongly suspect at least one did and maybe more.

    10) The board members emphasized in every session that they are available to speak at any luncheon if a group is interested in talking about the process.

    11) The IHL Board committee, throughout the various meetings, emphasized that folks can email their input anytime they want via the search process website.

    12) IHL Board search committee head Scott Ross mentioned in every session that the new president should be hired by mid to late-fall. According to Tom Meredith that's a shorter timeframe than most searches of this type.

    Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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