OXFORD, Miss. – At the annual Mississippi Bar Convention in Sandestin, Florida, Robert C. Khayat received the 2014 Law Alumnus of the Year Award from the University of Mississippi Law Alumni Chapter. Since 1974, the chapter has selected one person annually to receive this distinction. The recipient must have made positive contributions to the legal profession, the law school and the university.
“Former Chancellor Khayat is an outstanding law professor, a respected associate dean and is a dedicated alumnus of the law school,” said Richard Gershon, law school dean. “He is also a great Mississippian, who has done much to help the people of our state. I am honored to work in a building named for him.”
Khayat is one of the law school’s most illustrious graduates. This is noted visibly by the name of the law school building, the Robert C. Khayat Law Center, which was dedicated in April 2011.
Khayat joined the law faculty in 1969, after a successful venture as a lawyer in Pascagoula. He served as a professor and associate dean, teaching local government law, family law, agency and partnership, federal trial practice, torts, civil procedure, and wills and estates. He helped shape generations of legal minds, including noteworthy graduates such as John Grisham.
Gov. William Winter reflected on Khayat’s influence in his address at the law school’s building dedication ceremony.
“Robert Khayat, with a vision of a more open and less insular society, played a major role in the enlightenment of an entire generation of young law students,” Winter said. “He helped develop in them an enhanced appreciation for the majesty of the law and their duty as lawyers to defend our legal and political system against the mindless critics who would profane and diminish it.”
Khayat received a Sterling Fellowship and obtained a master of laws from Yale University and returned to Oxford in 1981.
“The law school experience pulled together everything I had learned prior to 1963, helped me become able to read more retentively, to read more and to understand some of the complex characteristics of individuals and groups of people,” Khayat said. “I learned even more as a member of the faculty; the law school helped me receive a Sterling Fellowship from Yale which culminated in a graduate degree from one of the most respected universities in the world. I doubt that I would have been offered the chancellorship without that degree.”
As an Ole Miss law student, Khayat was articles editor of the Mississippi Law Journal and finished third in his class in 1966.
“From my first class in June of 1963, I felt that the opening of ‘my brain’ happened – I was intrigued, challenged and quickly adjusted to the extensive reading requirements,” Khayat said. “I liked the format of the classes and the interaction between the faculty and among the students. I realized that I was learning that the world is not black and white – that there were usually at least two sides to any issue.”
Khayat also started the Law Alumni Chapter, a group that continues to contribute to the school and alumni base in numerous ways. Coincidentally, his receiving the award at the convention in Sandestin marked exactly 50 years from the formation of the Law Alumni Chapter.
“We typed them on 3×5 index cards,” Khayat said of his gathering information on law graduates for the chapter. “I still remember the first, middle and last names of just about everyone who graduated from the Ole Miss law school.”
Khayat’s leadership extended beyond the walls of the law school. He was an academic All-American football player and was chosen as an All-SEC catcher for the 1959 and 1960 SEC champion baseball teams. He has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the NFL and the Distinguished American Award from the National Football Foundation.
Serving as chancellor of the university from 1995 until 2009, Khayat improved the university in many tangible ways. He increased enrollment by 43 percent and brought in research and development grants of more than $100 million. He also brought the prestigious honor society Phi Beta Kappa chapter to Ole Miss, as well as the 2008 presidential debate.
Most recently, Khayat won a Silver IPPY for best memoir in the nation awarded for his 2013 book “The Education of a Lifetime.”
With this record, it’s easy to see why Khayat was selected, said Mike Randolph, presiding justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court.
“I can think of no alumnus more deserving of the award,” Randolph said at the ceremony in Destin. “For those of us who were privileged to study under his tutelage, it’s difficult to think of Ole Miss without reflecting on Dr. Khayat’s positive impact on the university, its law school and the alumni of both.”
“If love is the appropriate word for an institution, I love the law school and its people,” Khayat said.
Other notable alumni who have received this recognition previously include Winter, Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Lenore Prather, Professor Bill Champion and Justice Reuben Anderson.