University of Southern Mississippi President Dr. Rodney Bennett sent this message to all students and faculty Jan. 21, 2022:
Dear Southern Miss Family:
As I approach my tenth year of service as President of The University of Southern Mississippi, I have had the opportunity to reflect on an exceptional list of institutional accomplishments that we have achieved, together. Many of our accomplishments – despite significant challenges – have set the University on a trajectory toward becoming the model for public higher education across the country, to include –
- Earning our place among the nation’s most distinguished R1 institutions;
- Maintaining our regional accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), as well as a wide variety of program-specific accreditations that ensure the quality and national prominence of key academic programs;
- Enrolling the most academically talented students in the University’s recorded history, while maintaining stable enrollment throughout the pandemic;
- Realigning our academic enterprise to enhance the distinctiveness of academic programs and create a sustainable model for academic program growth;
- Enhancing the student experience through strategic investments in student life and programs supporting academic success;
- Elevating our role as a $660 million annual economic driver for the state of Mississippi;
- Reaching unprecedented milestones in private fundraising thanks to the generosity of alumni, donors, and friends of the institution;
- Facilitating tremendous growth all along the Mississippi Gulf Coast – from East to West;
- Positioning our athletics programs for future growth through conference realignment;
- Stabilizing the University’s overall financial position, enabling us to achieve compliance with Board policy, while still making critical investments in faculty and staff support as we were able to do so;
- Completing a wide range of construction projects to maximize the role facilities play in student growth and development, faculty pedagogy and research, and overall workplace productivity;
- And the list goes on and on.
It is truly remarkable to reflect on how far we have come since my introduction to the University with the EF-4 tornado of February 10, 2013. I am also mindful of all the ways in which we have advanced public higher education in Mississippi. We have made a profound impact across our state and beyond, and I could not be more proud of our work.
As I think about my future in the context of my current contract end date of June 30, 2023, the time is coming for me to step aside for another individual to chart the path for the next chapter in our Southern Miss Story. I am deeply grateful for my strong tenure here. I have learned a great deal – I have grown a great deal – and I have worked with and mentored outstanding individuals, who I am confident will continue to have a positive impact on higher education. The University of Southern Mississippi will always hold a special place in my heart, and I will always be excited to hear about the good things I know are still on the horizon for this institution.
My intention is to begin exploring other professional opportunities later this spring, and I wanted to be transparent with each of you about my plans for the future. I am excited about what lies ahead for me and for my family, but this transition will certainly be bittersweet, as we all love our home here in Hattiesburg – as well as our Greater Pine Belt and Mississippi Gulf Coast communities.
Moving forward, I will be working closely with the IHL system’s Commissioner of Higher Education to develop a strong transition plan, and I have no doubt the system leadership will identify a highly qualified, passionate, visionary leader to take the helm of our beloved University of Southern Mississippi. However, until my time here has come to a conclusion, we will continue our work at a high level to advance the University and to advance public higher education in Mississippi – and, as always, we will remain committed to being good stewards of the resources that enable us to carry out this important work for our students, for our state, and for generations of Golden Eagles yet to come.
I appreciate all that each of you do for The University of Southern Mississippi.
Rodney D. Bennett