By Anna Grace Usery
Former Ole Miss Chancellor and current distinguished professor Jeffrey Vitter said in a panel interview yesterday to vie for the next president of the University of South Florida that he left the Ole Miss because of tension regarding the campus’ longstanding racial issues and now-concluded NCAA investigation.
The Tampa Bay Times reports Vitter was the second of four finalists to interview on Wednesday, March 20. He began the interview with reasons why he left Ole Miss, Times reporter Megan Reeves confirmed.
According to the Times, Vitter said in front of a USF search committee that he was brought in (to Ole Miss) to be an agent of change.
“But I made the mistake of underestimating, really, the level of entrenchment and lack of common agreement at Ole Miss,” he said.
He attributed that lack of common agreement to racial issues related to Mississippi’s Civil War History and an ongoing NCAA investigation.
He went on to say much of the “human capital” he had went to dealing with tensions related to those issues.
“That attention really drew away … from academic issues,” Vitter said.
In his resignation letter to students, faculty and staff on Nov. 13, 2018, Vitter gave no clear indication why he was leaving the university aside from his conclusion “that the time is right for someone new to take the helm.”
“Serving as your chancellor has been the greatest professional privilege of my life. We have dealt with taxing challenges and big opportunities, and we have built a solid foundation and momentum for the future,” he stated in his letter.
Jim Zook, vice chancellor for strategic communications and marketing, said he could not comment on Vitter’s USF interview calling them “his pursuits.”
He also declined to comment whether Vitter resigned from the chancellor position in hopes of being named USF’s newest president.
Reeves said post-interview the committee held a roundtable discussion about the positives of each candidate. When it came to Vitter, she said, several committee members commented.
According to the reporter, one committee member said Vitter dealt with hard issues right out front and thought that was “an indication of some trait of leadership.”
One university trustee said “he did it unemotionally and very clearly” and that he “didn’t dig deep enough before starting at Ole Miss.”
Vitter served as chancellor until Jan. 3, 2019 and has continued employment at the university as a tenured Distinguished Professor in the School of Engineering’s Department of Computer and Information Science.
USF is scheduled to select its seventh president Friday, March 22.