A memoir by Robert Khayat, chancellor emeritus of the University of Mississippi, has been selected for the university’s 2015 Common Reading Experience.
Each incoming freshman will receive a copy of “The Education of a Lifetime,” (Nautilus Publishing Co., 2013) with instructions to read it before the start of fall classes. Khayat will speak at the fall convocation, set for Aug. 25 at Tad Smith Coliseum.
“I think students will identify with the author’s account of his first days as a freshman on an unfamiliar campus,” said Leslie Banahan, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and a co-chair on the Common Reading selection committee.
Chosen from among five finalists by the Common Reading committee, Khayat’s book tells the story of growing up in Moss Point during the days of segregation and recounts his days in college at Ole Miss and Yale University. He also tells stories about his experiences as the university’s 15th chancellor and how the university grew under his direction.
“Every new student has pangs of homesickness and uncertainty, and I think knowing that our former chancellor had those same experiences will be reassuring to members of the class of 2019,” Banahan said. “The UM Common Reading Experience is important to our campus as we are a community of readers. Reading is at the very core of education, and sharing one book with students, faculty, staff and alumni affords us the opportunity for rich, stimulating, insightful discussions. Hopefully, students will learn how to express their opinions and respectfully listen to others opinions, even when they disagree.
“Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat played a pivotal role in changing the University of Mississippi and changing the perception others had of the university. Reading ‘The Education of a Lifetime’ will expose students to Chancellor Emeritus Khayat’s leadership style, the challenges he faced and overcame during his career, his disappointments and the legacy he leaves for all of us.”
Part of the book is devoted to Khayat’s efforts to change some of the school’s traditions in order to change perceptions and rid UM of symbols that were damaging its reputation. While most Ole Miss alumni supported Khayat, some were outraged. Many hateful letters and even death threats found their way to the chancellor’s office.
“I have come to believe that many external forces shape and mold us,” Khayat writes. “I am no exception. … Frequently, there is no way to prepare for a particular challenge or situation, and you have to go with what you have and who you are. And who you are is often determined by your family.”
During Khayat’s tenure as chancellor, academic standards were raised, old buildings were renovated and faculty salaries grew dramatically. The university was granted a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious undergraduate honor society for liberal arts. Enrollment increased by 70 percent and the university’s budget grew from $500 million to $1.5 billion annually.