TUPELO • Larry Sparks, the interim chancellor at the University of Mississippi, spoke to the Tupelo chapter of the Rotary Club on Monday where he updated the group on construction projects on campus and informed the organization how the university is attempting to keep more college graduates in Mississippi.
Sparks, former vice chancellor for administration and finance, addressed the increasing problem commonly referred to as the “brain drain,” where students often leave the state once they graduate.
“Our number one job is education, but also when students graduate, we need to have jobs for them within the state of Mississippi that are related to what they’re learning in school,” Sparks said. “So, I think whether it was me or other presidents at Mississippi universities, I think you’re going to see a greater commitment, if you will, to workforce development and economic development.”
Sparks, a native of Oxford, told the crowd that the university just hosted a grand opening on two new projects to welcome students to the new semester – the Ole Miss Student Union and the South Campus Recreation Center.
A member of the club asked Sparks what the ratio of in-state students to out-of-state students is on campus, and Sparks said around 58 to 60% of students on the Oxford campus are in-state students.
“I’ll say what many of you are probably thinking: There’s a perception out there that Ole Miss doesn’t recruit Mississippians hard and doesn’t want Mississippians, and I’m here to tell you that is not only not true – that is a lie,” Sparks said.
Sparks said that he has worked with officials to try and correct that perception, but clarified that the university does have to maintain about 30% of out-of-state students in order to be financially stable as a university.
Currently, the state Institutions of Higher Learning is conducting a search to find a new chancellor at the university. Sparks said IHL is set to have a preferred candidate chosen by the end of October.
After his presentation, Sparks told the Daily Journal he is staying out of the process and did not want to make any recommendations on what type of candidate IHL should be looking for, but did say the advice he would give the incoming chancellor is to build relationships by communicating effectively.
“You need to build relationships and communication needs to be a core product of relationship building,” Sparks said. “That’s not just for a chancellor, but in everyday life.”
He also said one project he hopes is completed by the time a new chancellor leads the school is the construction of the new STEM facility on campus that the university administration has been fundraising for since he became interim chancellor.
“We’ve been very fortunate throughout the year for the additional commitments that have been made to the project,” Sparks said. “That goes without saying that any new chancellor is given the opportunity to state their own vision and their own priorities. We stand ready to support whatever those priorities might be.”
Sparks told Rotarians that after a new chancellor is chosen, he hopes to return to his former role as the chief financial officer for the university.