New chancellor’s challenge: ‘Just imagine what we will do’

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Ashley F.G. Norwood, Mississippi Today

University of Mississippi Provost Morris H. Stocks, left, welcomes Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter to the stage during Thursday's investiture ceremony.

Dr. Jeffrey S. Vitter submitted his vision for the University of Mississippi on Thursday.

“Learning from our past, we will create a vibrant future,” he said. “We will transform lives, communities and the world. Just imagine what we will do.”

Vitter was formally installed as the university’s 17th chancellor during an investiture ceremony at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts on the Ole Miss campus.

Jazz music greeted guests — a nod to Vitter’s birthplace, New Orleans — but there was plenty of traditional pomp and circumstance.

Presentations of insignia of the office of the chancellor came from representatives of the student body, faculty, staff, alumni and representatives of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

A contingent of elected government officials offered greetings and best wishes from the stage. Describing Thursday’s ceremony as historic, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, a graduate of the university, listed the accomplishments of chancellors prior to Vitter and emphasized the importance of continuing the school’s legacy. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn  joined Vitter on stage.

Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Glenn F. Boyce acknowledged challenges being faced nationally and locally and asked Vitter if he will accept the unique responsibilities of the university.

Vitter responded with the opening lines to Hotty Toddy: “Hell yes. Damn right.”

To be a chancellor is a challenge everywhere, but it’s a unique challenge at Ole Miss, says Associated Student Body President Austin Powell. He described the history of racial tension on campus, but commended Vitter on his efforts to listen to the concerns of the students.

“It’s been a privilege working with Chancellor Vitter,” said Powell.

With great emotion, Vitter acknowledged his deceased parents and his supportive family members.

“Ole Miss is a family,” said Vitter.

The university sponsored a public reception for the new chancellor in the Circle, in front of the Lyceum, on campus after the ceremony.

Vitter, 60, succeeded Chancellor Dan Jones. He was appointed unanimously by the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning on Oct. 29, 2015, and took office Jan. 1, 2016.

Before arriving at Ole Miss, Vitter served as provost and executive vice chancellor at the University of Kansas. Prior to taking that post in 2010, he served as provost and executive vice president for academics at Texas A&M University in College Station.

Vitter graduated in mathematics from the University of Notre Dame in 1977 and earned his Ph.D. in computer science at Stanford University in 1980. He also holds an MBA from Duke University.

In the months preceding Thursday’s celebration, the university organized and sponsored a variety of events dealing with the inauguration’s theme:  “The Power of Higher Education to Transform Lives, Communities and World.”