By Errol Castens, Oxford Citizen
The IHL search committee’s preferred candidate for chancellor of the University of Mississippi has a 36-page curriculum vita of accomplishments from a 35-year career in higher education.<>
Jeffrey S. Vitter was identified as the only remaining candidate for the position last Monday. He is being favored to succeed Dr. Dan Jones, a popular leader who served in the office for six years and whose contract was not renewed after he and the IHL board failed to come to common ground over issues regarding the Medical Center campus.
Vitter is scheduled to visit the Medical Center campus in Jackson on Wednesday and the main campus in Oxford Thursday to meet with various constituency groups, including an 11 a.m. meeting for alumni and community and a 1 p.m. meeting with students. The IHL board will hold a special meeting (likely in executive session) at 2:30, with an announcement scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday.
If the decision goes as expected, Vitter will spend several weeks in transition between his current position as provost and executive vice chancellor at the University of Kansas to the top job at Ole Miss, taking on the UM leadership role full-time in February.
Jeffrey Scott Vitter was born in New Orleans in 1955. He and his wife, Sharon, have three children –Jillian, an anesthesiologist at the University of Colorado; J. Scott Jr., a former Army Ranger who is now a graduate student at the University of Texas; and daughter Audrey, who works for GE’s oil and gas operations management leadership program. His brother is U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana), who is running for governor of that state.
Jeff Vitter earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Notre Dame, a Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford University and an M.B.A. from Duke University. In the years since, he has held teaching positions at Brown, Duke, Purdue, Texas A&M and Kansas – at the last three of which he also held administrative positions.
His academic and research credentials are extensive. According to Vitter’s resume, his research “seeks to exploit the rich interdependence between mathematical computer theory and practice, primarily in four key subfields dealing with big data. He is perhaps best known as a founder of the field of external memory algorithms, which focuses upon alleviating the I/O communication bottleneck between fast internal memory and slow external storage (such as disk).”
Vitter has more than 300 book, journal, conference and patent publications and has given more than 200 invited professional presentations around the world, and he is designated as an Information Sciences Institute highly cited researcher.
He also has a great many professional and academic honors, from being a Fulbright Scholar and a member of Phi Beta Kappa to being named a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
One concern raised by more than one reporter at last week’s IHL press conference was how committed Vitter would be to diversity efforts that characterized the previous two chancellors at Ole Miss – Dan Jones and Robert Khayat.
“He is absolutely committed to diversity,” said IHL Commissioner Glenn Boyce. “He has spent his career committed to that.”
IHL Board President Alan Perry said diversity was one of the first issues about which each of the eight interviewed candidates was asked.
Vitter’s resume notes that at KU he has overseen the “Hiring for Excellence program, which helps identify and recruit the very best faculty and staff and simultaneously leads to significant growth in diversity.”
At Texas A&M, where he also served as provost and executive vice president, he oversaw searches that resulted in the university’s first Hispanic dean of architecture, first Hispanic dean of faculties, first African American vice president of global initiatives, first African American female vice president for diversity, first female dean of veterinary medicine, and the first female dean of geosciences.
At Purdue, where Vitter was dean of science, he developed a peer mentoring and diversity initiative that was adopted university-wide.
Boyce noted that the current controversy over the Mississippi flag, which many characterize as a social issue, will be one of Vitter’s early challenges.
“One of the great purposes for a university is to teach its students about a democratic/republican way of life,” Boyce said. “Decisions are made with discussion and with the free flow of ideas. I’m proud that the students have taken this on … that they’re interested this early in life.
“My opinion is that Dr. Vitter will certainly be looking into this, will have conversations and will try to catch up with the attitudes, thoughts and debates that has taken place on this campus. I’m sure when he arrives, that’s one of the first things he’ll be discussing with people.”
Another question raised Monday was whether Vitter might view Ole Miss as a stepping stone to the presidency of a larger university.
“I’ve had a number of conversations in which he said this is his dream job. He really wants it. I think that he believes that this will be his last job,” Perry said. “He’s got a number of years left as an effective leader, and I think Ole Miss is beyond the point now where it is to be viewed as a stepping stone. I think it’s a destination school.”
Vitter is three years older than Robert Khayat was when the latter started his 14-year tenure as chancellor.
Perry emphasized that Vitter’s academic, administrative and research strengths don’t make him unapproachable. One item on Vitter’s resume that hints at his personality is that for years he has issued an April Fool’s version of his weekly provost newsletter. The most recent one showed how the campus newspaper was going to cut back on print to save trees, opting instead to publish directly into reader’s brains via microchips. The name of the fictional technology was “Bio-based Radar Receiver Aggregating Information and News System (BRRAINS).”
“He’s a people person,” Perry said. “I think he can fit into this culture well, and all of that together – the whole package – made him look like the outstanding candidate to the entire committee.”