OXFORD • Jeffrey Vitter will step down as chancellor of the University of Mississippi, effective January, according to the state college board.
Vitter submitted his resignation Friday and will serve through Jan. 3. After that, he will remain within the university faculty as a professor of computer and information science.
In a press release, the Institutions of Higher Learning leadership board said an interim chancellor will be named soon.
The university’s vice chancellor for administration and finance Larry Sparks has been considered as an interim replacement for Vitter, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions.
In a written statement, ILH Board President Shane Hooper thanked Vitter for his contributions.
“His leadership has moved the university forward in numerous ways and we are grateful for his service,” Hooper said.
Vitter has only been on the job about three years. He started work January 2016 as the 17th chancellor and had a contract not set to expire until 2020.
He becomes the second consecutive chancellor of the university to exit under a cloud. The IHL board forced out Vitter’s predecessor Dan Jones in 2015, a move that sparked widespread backlash.
During the 34-months of Vitter’s tenure thus far, the university has suffered periodic turbulence and the ebbing of confidence by some alumni and boosters.
In fiscal year 2016, the university received a record $194.3 million in private donations. In fiscal year 2017, that total dropped to $153.6 million. In 2018, private donations dropped further to $115.8 million.
The university’s freshman class has shrunk by more than 13 percent in the past two years. In 2016, undergraduate freshman enrollment was 3,982. That total dropped to 3,697 in 2017 and 3,455 in 2018.
The football program has also been beleaguered in recent years. Head coach Hugh Freeze resigned in 2017 under a cloud of scandal and the NCAA levied sanctions later that year.
In a written statement released by IHL, Vitter touted gains he believes the university has made in recent years.
“We are stronger academically, enjoy more support in private giving and research funding, and engage more proactively with the world around us,” Vitter said. “In addition, we are a more diverse community with a more visible dedication to inclusion and civility.”
That statement hints at efforts Vitter helped continue to grapple with the ongoing presence of campus site and landmarks linked to slavery, the Confederacy and racist figures.
More recently, Vitter didn’t flinch from condemning racially inflammatory statements made on social media by a donor, Ed Meek.
Before he came to Oxford, Vitter was provost and executive vice chancellor at the University of Kansas.
His resume also includes stints at Texas A&M, Purdue University, Duke University and Brown University.
A Louisiana native, he studied math at the University of Notre Dame and earned a doctorate in computer science from Stanford University.
His brother is David Vitter, formerly a U.S. Senator from Louisiana.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The historical totals for private giving included above accurately reflect the numbers that were then publicly available from the University of Mississippi Foundation's reports and other university sources. As of fiscal year 2018, the foundation will revise the historical totals it reports to reflect changes in how private giving is tracked and counted by the foundation. The total private giving for fiscal year 2016 will now be reported as $167.3 million. The total private giving for fiscal year 2017 will be reported as $132.7 million. The total private giving for fiscal year 2018 will be reported as $116.6 million.