As chancellor of the University of Mississippi, I have learned it is difficult to have a rational conversation about an emotional subject such as a school mascot. Still, it is important to separate emotion from fact, myth from reality, and accuracy from misleading generalizations.
American history has marched through our campus on several occasions, leaving among its marks our Confederate monument, historic Lyceum, and cemetery. This year, we will add a civil rights monument to memorialize the role Ole Miss played in making higher education in Mississippi accessible to all.
To allay the fears of those who believe we are abandoning our history and heritage, please know that (1) we are the Ole Miss Rebels and will continue to present ourselves to the world under that name; (2) the song "Dixie" remains in our repertoire of school spirit songs and will continue to be played at sporting events; (3) Colonel Rebel is an official trademark of the University and will continue to be included among our registered names, appear on merchandise and in public presentations.
Our athletics history began in 1876 when we fielded an intercollegiate baseball team called "The Red and Blue." We selected as school colors the crimson of Harvard and the Navy blue of Yale. There was no mascot.
In 1896 students published the first yearbook and called it "Ole Miss." Since then the institution has been known affectionately as Ole Miss, one of the most recognizable university names in America.
In 1929 we became the "Mississippi Flood" and continued using the colors red and blue. 1936 brought a name change from "Flood" to "Rebels," but there is no evidence of an on-field mascot for the Flood or the Rebels.
An official mascot did not appear until 1979 when the Department of Athletics introduced the figure of an "old man in baggy pants" as part of a national trend toward Disney-like cartoon characters. The original Colonel Rebel continued with a separate identity from the on-field mascot, appearing on printed materials, statues, yard signs, and t-shirts. We fully expect our fans to continue to display Colonel Rebel, but the on-field mascot will be replaced with a more energetic, vibrant figure.
Race isn't an issue
We are gratified that Ole Miss students and fans are emotionally invested in how the University is presented to the public. We are deeply disappointed that some would inject race into the discussion. Athletics Director Pete Boone is responsible for every aspect of game management, including on-field activities. I endorse his administrative leadership and totally support and applaud Mr. Boone's recommendation.
The decision to update the mascot was based on the belief that a Disney-like elderly plantation person is not representative of a modern athletics program. Our mascot should reflect the youthful energy, vitality and enthusiasm of our students.
The Department of Athletics soon will announce a contest soliciting ideas for a new mascot and a process that will include input from students, active alumni, donors and season ticket holders. The final selection will be made by the Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics based upon preferences expressed by those who participate in the process - particularly our students.
In the meantime, we hope the people of Mississippi and Ole Miss students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends will focus their energy on issues such as the economy, health care, high quality education, literacy, and a better life for Mississippians.
Ole Miss is committed to offering a world-class educational experience for our students, relevant research by our faculty, and meaningful service by our entire community. It is a waste of energy to be bogged down in a strident argument about a mascot.
We have generated great momentum as a university and we are committed to the relentless pursuit of excellence and leadership.
Robert Khayat is the 15th chancellor of the University of Mississippi. Responses may be e-mailed to email@example.com.