UM Moves Up in Measures of Academic and Research Performance

University included in several rankings of the nation's and world's best institutions

The University of Mississippi is ranked among the nation’s best public institutions in several third-party evaluations of academic and research performance. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Efforts by faculty, staff and students to excel in their pursuit of knowledge have given the University of Mississippi, the state’s flagship university, new momentum in its mission to lead the way in learning, discovery and engagement for the state and nation.

UM has been ranked among the nation’s best public institutions in several third-party evaluations of academic and research performance, and the university has climbed in recent measures of those areas.

In 2016, the university was included for the first time among the elite group of R1: Doctoral Universities – Highest Research Activity by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, the definitive list of the nation’s top doctoral research universities. UM is among a distinguished group of 115 institutions, including Harvard, MIT and Johns Hopkins in the highest research category, which includes the top 2.5 percent of institutions of higher education.

The university also achieved its highest-ever standing in the 2017 U. S. News & World Report annual rankings of Best (Undergraduate) Colleges and Universities, where UM tied for No. 64 in the Top Public Universities category, up seven places from the previous year’s rankings. The rankings reflect 15 indicators of academic excellence, such as graduation and retention rates, undergraduate academic reputation, faculty resources, financial resources and alumni giving rates.

The business (including accounting) and engineering programs were also ranked nationally.

Chemical engineering students conduct an experiment. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

“These achievements and rankings reinforce our flagship status and are a testament to the value of our degrees, the impact of our research and the competitiveness of our students, staff and faculty,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “While they provide important benchmarks for our university, we remain committed to achieving even higher levels of excellence.

“We will focus upon growing the reach and impact of Ole Miss to continue making a positive difference for Mississippi, our nation and the world.”

The university ranked in the top 20 percent of U.S. institutions for total research and development expenditures in a report issued by the National Science Foundation based upon 2015 expenditures. For the 10th consecutive year, the university was ranked in the top 20 percent in this report.

The university also performed well in the inaugural ranking of U.S. colleges and universities by The Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education publications. This measure ranked UM 74th among all the nation’s public universities.

This ranking constitutes a comparative assessment of more than 1,000 colleges and universities, measuring factors such as university resources, student engagement, outcomes and environment. The latter includes a gauge of the university’s efforts to build a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty and staff.

“Many of our academic offerings continue to gain exposure and recognition,” said Noel Wilkin, the university’s interim provost and executive vice chancellor. “I fully expect this trend to continue because of the quality and commitment of our faculty and staff.”

Success in international education and research partnerships contributed to the university’s standing on U.S. News’ 2017 list of Best Global Universities. Among the top 1,000 research universities in 65 countries, UM ranked in the top third on this year’s list.

Ole Miss students attending the PULSE Sophomore Leadership get to interact with Corporate Execs from FedEx, Hershey’s, Chico and others. PULSE is a two-day sophomore leadership workshop that brings together sophomore students from a variety of roles on campus to learn about themselves and their leadership potential. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

The Best Global Universities list ranks each institution’s international and regional research reputation, including a statistical analysis of peer-reviewed publications, citations and international collaborations. The university ranked in the top 10 percent in international collaborations, and the university’s research areas of physics and pharmacology/toxicology were ranked in the top 20 percent.

“The reputation of the university in national and international research circles has been steadily growing over the past few decades,” said Josh Gladden, interim vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs. “We have seen this trend through an increasing number of national leadership positions in societies and consortia, an increase in the number of grant awards, as well as in statistical reports such as U.S. News and World Report.

“It is an exciting time for the research community at the university, and I look forward to increasingly higher impact of UM research.”

U.S. News and World Report ranked two of the university’s graduate academic programs in the top 25 nationally among public universities: the online MBA program (No. 19) and pharmacy (No. 23). Here are some of the other U.S. News rankings of UM graduate programs among public universities:

  • School of Education online program (tied No. 35)
  • History (tied No. 48)
  • Master of Business Administration (tied No. 51)
  • English (tied No. 56)
  • Clinical psychology (tied No. 67)
  • Civil engineering (tied No. 70)
  • Education (tied No. 72)
  • Social work (tied No. 77)
  • Physics (tied No. 84)
  • Electrical engineering (tied No. 85)
  • Mathematics (tied No. 91)

In national rankings by other sources, the university achieved several additional accolades among all public and private universities:

  • Patterson School of Accountancy (all three degree programs ranked in the top 10 nationally by the journal Public Accounting Report)
  • Patterson School of Accountancy master’s and doctoral programs (No. 1 in SEC)
  • Patterson School of Accountancy undergraduate program (No. 2 in SEC)
  • Creative writing (No. 6 among “Top 10 Universities for Aspiring Writers” by CollegeMagazine.com)
  • Online health informatics undergraduate program (No. 3 by the Health Informatics Degree Center)
  • Business law program in the School of Law (one of only four schools to earn a perfect score of A+ by preLaw Magazine, ranking it as one of the country’s top programs)

The university’s efforts to achieve excellence in all its endeavors also has helped recruit talented students to learn and contribute on all its campuses. The Chronicle of Higher Education named the university as the nation’s eighth-fastest growing among both public and private colleges in its Almanac of Higher Education, moving up from 13th in 2014.

The ranking is based upon enrollment growth from fall 2006, when the university enrolled 14,497 students, to fall 2016, with 24,250 students registered.

The university’s incoming freshmen continue to be better-prepared for the rigor of college, posting an average ACT score of 25.2 in fall 2016, surpassing the school record of 24.7 set in 2015. The high school GPA of incoming freshmen also increased, growing from 3.54 to 3.57, another university record.

“Ole Miss is committed to student success,” Vitter said. “The demand for a University of Mississippi degree is unprecedented, and the success of our programs and initiatives aimed at helping students stay in school and graduate is clear in our increasing retention and graduation rates.

“Each and every day, our faculty and staff demonstrate strong commitment to transforming lives through higher education.”

UM Leaders Named Among Top CEOs

Chancellor Vitter, UMMC's Cook honored by Mississippi Business Journal

Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter (right) and University of Mississippi Medical Center Health System CEO Kevin Cook were honored as two of the state’s top chief executive officers by the Mississippi Business Journal.

JACKSON, Miss. – University of Mississippi Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter and University of Mississippi Medical Center Health System CEO Kevin Cook were named Thursday as two of the Mississippi Business Journal’s top chief executive officers in the state.

MBJ’s CEO Awards of Mississippi recognized leaders in the state who helped their companies or organizations achieve strong growth and success and have made a profound effect on their community.

“Being able to recognize for the second year the people who work to create jobs, build new facilities, and contribute to our state’s economy and our communities has been very gratifying and rewarding to us,” MBJ Publisher Alan Turner said.

Since taking the reins of UM on Jan. 1, 2016, Vitter has spent his first year in office focused on bolstering the university’s already strong research capabilities, strengthening science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and also growing the university’s capacity to address future workforce needs.

“I am grateful to the Mississippi Business Journal for this prestigious award,” Vitter said. “It is really a recognition of the university’s reputation for excellence and the valuable contributions of all our staff, faculty, students and alumni – they are the real honorees of this award.

“The University of Mississippi is an extraordinary place, and I cherish the opportunity to provide leadership for the continued growth and success of this flagship institution.”

Vitter was inaugurated as UM’s 17th chancellor Nov. 10 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. He previously served as University of Kansas provost, executive vice chancellor and Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor. The New Orleans native graduated with highest honors 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. 

Vitter came to Ole Miss committed to building on UM’s strengths. A key piece of his vision for the university is linked to its status as an R1: Doctoral University, denoting the highest research activity, in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

This designation places UM among a distinguished group of 115 institutions including Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University in the “highest research” category. Those in the classification represent the top 2.5 percent of institutions of higher education.

The chancellor is committed to establishing at Ole Miss a leading interdisciplinary research and education program in data science. 

He hosted a CEO Tech Summit in August that brought together technology industry leaders on campus.

His work toward his goals during his first year in office have been noted by the Institutions of Higher Learning. Glenn Boyce, Mississippi commissioner of higher education, applauded Vitter’s selection to MBJ’s list of the state’s top CEOs.

The chancellor understands the important partnership between higher education and the business community very well, Boyce said.

“As a renowned computer scientist, he has extensive experience fostering the relationship between university research and leading businesses,” he said. “By bringing this knowledge base and experience to Mississippi, he is providing leadership that will expand our research footprint in support of Mississippi business and industry, helping to improve our economy.”

Cook joined the Medical Center as CEO of the adult hospitals in 2013 and was elevated to his current role in September 2015. Working in tandem with Associate Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs Charles O’Mara, Cook is responsible for all adult and pediatric health care operations, including hospitals and clinics, under the UMMC health system umbrella.

During his time at the Medical Center, Cook has focused on enhancing the efficiency and improving the quality of the clinical enterprise while overseeing its growth.

“I’m deeply appreciative to be honored alongside some of the most accomplished leaders in our state,” Cook said. “This recognition is a result of the amazing work being done by our talented and accomplished clinical, administrative and support staffs that view their job as more than just work but as a mission.”

Before joining UMMC, Miami-native Cook spent eight years with Cincinnati-based Mercy Health, serving as regional CEO, market CEO and hospital COO in both Ohio and Pennsylvania.

UMMC is Cook’s second time working in Mississippi. From 2002 to 2006, he served in an administrative position with River Region Health System in Vicksburg.

Cook earned his undergraduate degree from William Smith College in Geneva, New York, and his MBA from Boston University. He served in the U. S. Marine Corps from 1991 to 1999, rising to the rank of major.

LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, appreciates Cook’s leadership of the $1 billion health system.

“He has been a great asset to UMMC during a time of growth and change,” Woodward said. “His experience, combined with his insight into the future of health care and how teaching hospitals and health systems must adapt to thrive, has us on the right path to achieve our goal of a healthier Mississippi.”

Both UM leaders were honored with the other CEOs at an awards banquet at the Old Capitol Inn in Jackson.

UM Earns Highest Graduation Success Rate in School History

Four Rebel teams post perfect scores

Commencement in the Pavilion at Ole Miss. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Ole Miss recorded its highest GSR in school history at 81 percent. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Coming on the heels of a successful weekend on the football field and basketball courts, the University of Mississippi has received more great news, this time on the academic side of things. In the most recent NCAA Graduation Success Rate Report released Tuesday, Ole Miss student-athletes recorded the highest GSR in school history at 81 percent.

Additionally, UM is graduating student-athletes at a rate nearly 2 percent higher than the general student body for the first time since 2009.  This is just one of many accomplishments Ole Miss student-athletes have had in the last year. In the spring, they posted a collective 3.0 GPA for the first time.

Ross Bjork, vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics, is pleased with the progress Ole Miss student-athletes are making in the classroom.  

“I am extremely proud of our student-athletes, coaches and athletics staff for reaching this new academic threshold,” Bjork said.  “Our biggest responsibility in college athletics is teaching, educating and providing leadership opportunities for our students who compete in athletics. Our intentional approach to enhance our academic performance is now paying off with the best graduation success rate on record.

“Earning a college degree is the ultimate measure of success in higher education and we are extremely proud of all of our Ole Miss Rebels who have received their degree and allowed our university to enrich our academic profile.  While we have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time, our work in this area is never complete, and we will continue to strive for academic excellence for our entire athletics program. We must continue to fulfill our purpose by providing every opportunity for our student-athletes to reach their full potential. ”

Derek Cowherd, senior associate athletics director for student-athlete development, is equally impressed by the dedication of the student-athletes, coaches and FedEx Student Athlete Success Center staff to achieve this milestone.

“It has taken a lot of dedication from our students, staff and coaches to move closer to our target of 90 percent graduation success and to see Ross’ vision for our department coming true,” Cowherd said. “We take the utmost pride in the process and the way we do things with integrity and within our core values. 

“It’s very rewarding to see so many of our student-athletes graduating and having a plan for their lives after their collegiate days are done.  I’m thankful for this talented team who works tirelessly to reach our goal of being in or near the upper third of the SEC in federal and graduation success rates.”

The women’s basketball, women’s golf, volleyball and rifle teams each posted a perfect 100 percent GSR. This will be the eighth consecutive year the women’s golf team has posted a perfect GSR, while volleyball achieves the feat for the sixth straight year.  It’s the fourth year in a row with a perfect score for women’s basketball and the third for rifle.

In 10 years, Ole Miss’ graduation success rate has improved from 69 percent to its current 81 percent, and the Rebels are graduating 2 percent higher than the overall university population and the federal graduation rate.

Additionally, Ole Miss is making strides among its SEC counterparts, continuing to climb into the upper echelon of the SEC.  

For further academic accolades, follow @UMTrueRebel on Twitter.

University Launches LiveSafe Mobile App

Resource available for free download for all students, faculty and staff

The LiveSafe mobile app is now available for the Ole Miss community. Photo by Mary Knight University Communcaitions

The LiveSafe mobile app is available for the Ole Miss community. Photo by Mary Knight/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi has partnered with the mobile safety communications platform LiveSafe to offer Ole Miss students, faculty and staff a tool for real-time security communication.

The app, available for free download for iOS in the App Store and for Android on Google Play, will allow the campus community to report nonemergency tips including threats, disturbances, assaults, theft, stalking, suspicious activity, drug and alcohol abuse and traffic and parking issues, among others.

Users of the app can include a picture, video or audio clip when submitting their tip, which can be anonymous. Once someone reports a tip through the app, the appropriate department will respond based on the tip type. A chat option is also available through the app to allow direct and immediate communication with on-campus resource officers. Full instructions for the app are available at olemiss.edu/livesafe.

“We want everyone to download the app immediately and begin using it as a personal safety tool,” said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs. “Additionally, community members are always encouraged to report concerns to the police or other appropriate authorities so swift action can be taken.”

Another feature of the app is called SafeWalk, which allows users to virtually walk their families and friends home using GPS-enabled location technology.

Ole Miss students tested the app last week, noting the safety benefits of the various aspects of the app.

“I used to live on campus and walk long distances at night by myself, so it’s really nice to know that I can have friends keep an eye on me and they can call someone if I can’t,” said Elizabeth Romary, a senior international studies and Spanish major from Hillsborough, North Carolina.

LiveSafe was founded nearly five years ago by a survivor of the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech with the intent of fostering safe and secure campus environments. The app is used by more than 130 colleges and universities.

“LiveSafe is excited to partner with Ole Miss to take the important step of providing a groundbreaking safety and prevention tool for all students, faculty and staff,” LiveSafe CEO Carolyn Parent said. “Utilizing LiveSafe demonstrates Ole Miss’s commitment to safety and makes them a leader in the education market providing higher duty of care for their community.”

The university will use the app to send RebAlerts and safety information to the campus community.

UM also has launched a website called UMatter, which serves as a support site for students, faculty and staff to provide assistance to peers and colleagues who may be in distress. Through the website, individuals can report concerns or gain access to support for problems ranging from physical and mental health issues to financial hardships, and concerning behavioral issues and drug and alcohol abuse.

To view all available resources, visit http://umatter.olemiss.edu/.

Jeffrey Vitter Inaugurated as UM Chancellor

Leader unveils several initiatives to move university 'from great to greater'

Jeffrey Vitter was officially named 17th Chancellor of the University of Mississippi during his Investiture ceremony Thursday, Nov. 10. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Jeffrey Vitter was officially named 17th chancellor of the University of Mississippi during his investiture ceremony Thursday (Nov. 10). Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi community celebrated a momentous occasion in the university’s life Thursday (Nov. 10) afternoon with the investiture of its 17th chancellor, Jeffrey S. Vitter.

In his inaugural address, Vitter called on the Ole Miss family to imagine what the future could look like if the full power of higher education was used to help people lift themselves above their circumstances and disadvantages.

He went on to recognize and praise the legacy of excellence that has grown at the university over recent decades through the efforts of visionary administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni, government leaders and friends who have invested their time, talents and resources.

“We are standing atop a peak in our history, and, from where we now stand, we can see higher peaks,” Vitter said. “In becoming what we are, we have created greater capacity for what we can be.”

The new chancellor declared that the university must continue to seek greatness and announced that he will call on the UM community to develop ideas for high-impact multidisciplinary research initiatives called Flagship Constellations.

These clusters of faculty, staff, students, alumni and partners will tackle compelling challenges that require multidisciplinary collaborations. The Flagship Constellations will include joint degree programs across disciplines and campuses, engage in strategic growth of graduate programs, and develop key partnerships revolving around innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Just imagine what we can do if we identify universitywide priorities where we can be international leaders in addressing the important challenges in our state and world,” Vitter said. “Imagine what we can do if we take our collective strengths, leverage them, exploit multidisciplinary synergies and in the process come up with imaginative solutions to these grand challenges.

“No one discipline has all the answers, and only collaboration and deep insights from multiple points of view will discover solutions. Intersecting our disciplines will take many forms.

“As an example, imagine what we can do when we build upon the momentum from our recent CEO Technology Summit to establish an interdisciplinary program in data science and big data, which will inform and support discovery and decision making across the spectrum from health and medicine to science and engineering to the arts, humanities and social sciences.”

This is not the first time Vitter has encouraged input and collaboration from the Ole Miss community. In January, he conducted the Flagship Forum, a 100-day listening and learning tour from which emerged four themes for the university to create a roadmap into the future: academic excellence, athletics excellence, building healthy, vibrant communities and being key enablers of people, places and resources.

He also held a town hall meeting in August based on these four themes that resulted in more than 550 ideas for opportunities at the university.

Vitter also announced plans Thursday to develop a cultural gateway to the UM campus east of the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. The goal is to bring together arts and cultural programs and create space for performance, experiential learning and enrichment opportunities.

He also plans to increase the university’s endowment from the existing $600 million to $1 billion. Those plans include an athletics endowment initiative, an endowment specifically to support the development, retention and engagement of talented staff, and growth of faculty excellence by creating new endowed professorships around the Flagship Constellations.

About 1,200 state officials, guests and members of the university community gathered for the ceremony at the Ford Center. Glenn Boyce, Mississippi commissioner of higher education, administered the oath of office.

“Dr. Vitter, I charge you to preside with fairness, humility and strength, striving always for excellence, knowledge and truth,” Boyce said. “I charge you to maintain and celebrate a climate that encourages the search for truth, a passion for justice and an expansion of the limits of knowledge. I charge you to serve the university with good stewardship, to protect and defend the university and to build the university to heights never before seen.”

In response to Boyce’s charge, Vitter responded in a uniquely Ole Miss fashion with the opening lines of the Hotty Toddy cheer: “Hell yeah, damn right.”

U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker highlighted previous accomplishments and welcomed Vitter to Ole Miss.

“Ole Miss continues to grow and prosper, producing leaders that have helped shape it into the world-class university it is today,” Cochran said. “I look forward to working with Chancellor Vitter to build on these successes. I look forward to seeing Ole Miss prosper and grow under his leadership.”

Wicker noted the historic nature of opportunities ahead.

“Chancellor Vitter has an impressive record upon which to build,” Wicker said. “His job is straightforward. Keep this historic university a place where Faulkner and Welty and Willie Morris can coexist with cutting-edge technology.

“Know this, Dr. Vitter: hundreds of thousands of alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends are counting on you and wishing you the best.”

Vitter said he was drawn to Ole Miss because of its rich tradition of academic excellence, strong sense of community and recognized history as an economic driver and thought leader.

He closed his address with a challenge to the university community.

“The next chapter in the life of this magnificent university sits squarely in all of our hands, waiting to be written – and read by future generations,” Vitter said. “All of us will ultimately be defined by what we leave behind.

“It is our destiny as a flagship university to desire more, to give more, to be more and to leave more behind. It is our calling to transform lives, communities and the world.”

For the full text, visit http://inauguration.olemiss.edu/.

UM Chancellor’s Investiture Hails Transformative Power of Higher Ed

Inauguration for Jeffrey S. Vitter set for 3 p.m. Nov. 10 at Ford Center

Commencement 2016. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Commencement 2016. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Jeffrey S. Vitter will be inaugurated as the 17th chancellor of the University of Mississippi on Nov. 10 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

The investiture ceremony, scheduled for 3 p.m., is the centerpiece of a monthslong celebration focused on the inauguration’s theme – selected by Vitter and reflecting an area of deep commitment – “The Power of Higher Education to Transform Lives, Communities and World.”

The investiture of a university chancellor formally installs the institution’s highest-ranking officer, confers upon him the ceremonial accoutrements of office, and gives the larger academic and civic communities an opportunity to convene and celebrate their shared values.

“I am deeply honored and humbled to officially follow in the footsteps of the superlative leaders who have served the University of Mississippi as chancellor,” Vitter said. “I have accepted the leadership role of this great flagship university with an urgent sense of purpose that we have a unique responsibility to transform and elevate our citizens through the opportunities offered through higher education. Nothing is more important to the future success and vitality of society.”

The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning named Vitter chancellor on Oct. 29, 2015. The former University of Kansas provost, executive vice chancellor and Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor took office on Jan. 1, 2016.

While serving as provost, Vitter initiated a campuswide strategic plan to transform KU into a top-tier research university. He also oversaw the creation of the first universitywide KU Core curriculum, expansion of the schools of Engineering, Business and Pharmacy, and the growth of multidisciplinary research, funding and entrepreneurship.

Vitter brings that same progress-minded leadership of advancing excellence in learning, discovery and engagement to take the university from great to greater.

Although steeped in tradition, investiture is a time to reflect on UM’s many successes, and an opportunity for the new chancellor to share his goals for the future of the university, said Morris Stocks, provost and executive vice chancellor, as well as chair of the Inaugural Steering Committee.

“The ceremony officially installs Dr. Vitter as our chancellor, and gives him a platform from which to discuss themes that are so important to the entire university community,” Stocks said. “It also marks the start of an exciting new era in the history of the University of Mississippi, an era that will build on the accomplishments of those who came before us and touch the lives of countless people who will come after us.”

In addition to Vitter’s keynote address about the strengths of the university and his vision for the future, the ceremony is slated to include presentations by Brice Noonan, chair of the Faculty Senate; Hal Moore, president of the Ole Miss Alumni Association, Gazel Giles, president of the Staff Council; Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine; and Austin Powell, president of the Associated Student Body.

In celebration of the inauguration, the university is hosting a number of campus events that can be found at http://inauguration.olemiss.edu/. Two such events include the UM Innovation and Entrepreneurship Panel, which was conducted Friday at Holman Auditorium, and the International Reception on Tuesday (Nov. 1) at the Inn at Ole Miss.

The university is encouraging participants posting about inauguration events on social media to use #PowerofHigherEd in recognition of the theme.

A native of New Orleans, Vitter graduated in mathematics with highest honors 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.

To allow students, faculty and staff to watch the inaugural ceremony, the university has canceled all classes scheduled between 2:15 and 5 p.m. Nov. 10.

Following the inauguration ceremony, the university community is invited to join Vitter in the Grove for a reception and an opportunity to interact with the new leader from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

Those not able to attend the ceremony can watch it from their home or office because it will be streamed live starting at 3 p.m. To view the ceremony, visit http://www.youtube.com/olemiss.

Ross Bjork Named UM Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics

Ole Miss also announces athletics director's contract extended through 2020

Ross Bjork, vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics at the University of Mississippi, has been given a four-year contract extension to remain the leader of the UM athletics program. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

Ross Bjork, vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics at the University of Mississippi, has been given a four-year contract extension to remain the leader of the UM athletics program. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Ole Miss Athletics Director Ross Bjork has been named vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics at the University of Mississippi.

In announcing that Bjork had been given the new vice chancellor title, university officials also noted that an agreement was reached this summer to extend the athletics director’s contract to June 30, 2020.

UM’s request to give Bjork the title of vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics was approved Thursday by the Board of Trustees of the State Institutions for Higher Learning.

The new title, as well as the extension of Bjork’s contract to reach the four-year maximum allowed by the state, reflects the university’s appreciation and support of the athletics director’s exemplary work since coming to Ole Miss, Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said.

“Athletics serves an important role at our university as our ‘front porch’ – capturing the hearts and minds of people and bringing them to campus so that they can experience the full richness of our great university,” Vitter said. “Athletics has played a big role in elevating the Ole Miss brand to its strongest point in school history.

“The success of our athletics program is unprecedented and is directly attributable to Ross’ leadership. Naming him as the vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics will continue that momentum. I expect under Ross’ leadership that athletics will continue to be an integral part of our growth and increased visibility.”

Ole Miss is the fifth school in the SEC to give its athletics director the vice chancellor designation, which more accurately reflects the all-encompassing role of the position.

“The idea is that this puts the AD at the table with the provost and other academic leaders on campus on a regular basis,” said Ron Rychlak, UM professor of law and faculty athletics representative. “That facilitates communication between athletics and academics, which is good for all parts of the university.”

Bjork has led Ole Miss athletics programs to unprecedented success since his arrival in 2012. Under his guidance, support has increased with record private donations and record attendance numbers in football, basketball and baseball. The athletics budget has increased from $57 million upon his arrival to $105.5 million for the 2016-17 season.

“My family and I are very grateful for the support and confidence shown by Dr. Vitter and the entire university community with a renewed long-term commitment to continue leading Ole Miss athletics,” Bjork said. “Holding the title of vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics is not only symbolic of the department’s core values, but also solidifies our role in the university’s overall mission of educating the next generation of America’s leaders.

“I am a big believer in being fully integrated with the university and will continue forward with a great sense of responsibility.”

As a result, Stephen Ponder, the senior executive associate athletics director for external relations, will be promoted to the title of deputy athletics director.

“Stephen has shown great leadership in so many areas since his arrival four years ago,” Bjork said. “His energy level and ‘can do’ attitude have allowed us to grow our entire athletics program physically, financially, competitively and emotionally.

“This promotion to deputy athletics director is well-deserved and fitting for Stephen as my right-hand person. I am grateful for Stephen’s leadership and blessed to work with the best coaches and athletics staff in the country.”

Bjork’s direction of the Forward Together campaign has garnered more than $170 million in donations, resulting in the construction of The Pavilion at Ole Miss, the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium expansion and the renovations of the Gillom Center, Track and Field complex and the Olivia and Archie Manning Athletics Performance Center.

Ole Miss student-athletes and fans have witnessed immediate success in competition under Bjork’s leadership. The Rebel football team appeared in post-season bowl games for the last four consecutive years, reaching the Allstate Sugar Bowl last season for the first time in 46 years. Ole Miss soccer reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time in program history.

In 2014, the Ole Miss baseball team competed in the College World Series in Omaha for the first time in 42 years, and Ole Miss men’s basketball claimed the SEC Tournament Championship in 2013. Ole Miss softball reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.

Men’s and women’s tennis, women’s golf and track and field have also reached post-season play, with pole vaulter Sam Kendricks claiming back-to-back NCAA championships in 2013 and 2014 and a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Track and field athlete Raven Saunders brought an NCAA Championship to Ole Miss for shot put.

But Bjork’s commitment to success reaches well beyond the field of competition. His strong emphasis on academics has led student-athletes to a record average GPA of 3.0, and the graduation success rate has increased from 72 percent to 81 percent.

His active involvement in other university programs, including the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, led to his recognition by the NCAA as a Champion of Diversity in 2015. He and former UM Chancellor Dan Jones were the first individuals highlighted with this designation for their work to support the interests of ethnic minorities and underrepresented populations.

Bjork encourages community involvement among student-athletes as well. Under his leadership, athletics programs and their members have participated in more than 50 service projects. Additionally, he’s traveled the country over the last five years, speaking to more than 19,000 Ole Miss alumni and fans on the Rebel Road Trip.

“We are extremely proud of what our team has accomplished over the past four-and-a-half years, and I truly believe the best is yet to come for the entire university and our athletics program,” Bjork said. “We are Ole Miss!”

Anthropology Class Digs for Evidence of Slave Life

Public invited to see progress on Rowan Oak excavations Oct. 15

Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

The public is invited to see archaeological work going on at Rowan Oak on Oct. 15. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi research group and the Center for Archaeological Research are conducting an archaeological investigation on the grounds of Rowan Oak in a search for evidence of slave life.

The public is invited to see the progress at the site Saturday (Oct. 15) during Public Archaeology Day.

The UM Slavery Research Group is interested in the pre-Faulkner era of the property, which was built in the late 1840s by Oxford settler and slaveholder Robert Sheegog. A census in 1850 showed nine slaves lived on the Sheegog Estate, yet there is no evidence of how they lived.

The archaeological excavation is being conducted this semester by UM students under the direction of Tony Boudreaux, associate professor of anthropology and director of the center, and Maureen Meyers, assistant professor of anthropology. It examines seven acres of cleared land surrounding the house at Rowan Oak.

“We want to build a context of the university during the 19th century,” Boudreaux said. “We know a little about the big stuff, but the day-to-day aspects of living falls away. My hope is this adds more information to Rowan Oak’s story during the period of time before the Civil War.”

Students began their research by surveying the land and performing shovel tests, digging shallow holes to find intact deposits before further excavations, every 10 meters. These tests have resulted in several findings, including pieces of glass, ceramic, coal and brick.

In the coming weeks, areas of artifact concentrations will be excavated intensively to try to identify remains of structures. Students will then sort, identify and analyze their findings, which also includes archival research at the Lafayette County Courthouse of land deeds and Sheegog’s will.

“You get a different level of education across the board,” said Allie Smith, a UM graduate student from Fort Payne, Alabama. “All the students are getting a taste of the different aspects of archaeology.”

The public can learn more about the excavation and the search for slave quarters from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday on the Rowan Oak grounds. The admission fee to the house will be waived for visitors that day, but donations will still be accepted.

“This project is an opportunity to better understand the role of slavery in Oxford and beyond, and it is the first systematic attempt to archaeologically identify the remains of slavery on university grounds in the Deep South,” said Chuck Ross, the group co-chair, director of African-American studies and professor of history.

“UM has the potential to be the first school in the Deep South to take on this important work.”

In conjunction with the archaeology event, the University Museum will host a Let’s Move Family Activity Day, where children of all ages can explore art and nature by making their way through the museum and to Rowan Oak by way of the Bailey Woods Trail. The free activity runs from 10 a.m. to noon, and no pre-registration is needed.

Parking at Rowan Oak is limited. To accommodate overflow, shuttle transportation will be available from the Old Taylor Lot. Restrooms will also be available onsite.

For more information about the excavation, visit http://car.olemiss.edu. To keep up with the latest information from the UM Slavery Research Group, follow it on Facebook and Twitter.

UM, Oxford Again Ranked Among Nation’s Best and Most Beautiful

University and its hometown pick up four new accolades

The University of Mississippi and Oxford have recently been recognized by several major publications for having the nation's most beautiful campus, the most unique tailgating experience and being among the nation's best college towns. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

The University of Mississippi and Oxford have recently been recognized by several major publications for having the nation’s most beautiful campus and most unique tailgating experience and for being among the nation’s best college towns. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi and Oxford often rank at the top of annual lists of beautiful campuses and best college towns, and this fall has brought a new set of national accolades upon the area.

USA Today’s Reader’s Choice travel awards contest has named UM the nation’s most beautiful campus, while Thrillist named the university on its unranked list of the 20 most beautiful public college campuses. The NCAA recognized Ole Miss’ tailgating environment as the nation’s best. FanSided, which is run by Sports Illustrated and owned by Time Inc., named Oxford the second-best college town in the nation.

Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter, who moved to Oxford from Kansas in January, said there’s a magic here that quickly grabs visitors.

“Over the last 34 years, I have lived and served in a number of great university towns, and there is something truly special about Ole Miss and Oxford,” Vitter said. “Ours is a unique place with extraordinary people. All it takes is just one visit here and you quickly realize why it captures the hearts and minds of so many.”

The university was the only Southeastern Conference school and the only one in Mississippi chosen in USA Today and 10best.com’s list of beautiful campuses. Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, came in second place and Sewanee: The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, came in third.

The USA Today/10best.com ranking notes Ole Miss “comprises 2,000 acres of expansive lawns, wooded trails and historic architecture, like the Greek Revival-style Lyceum.”

Thrillist, which ranks UM alongside the universities of Michigan and Hawaii and other schools, praised the Greek revival architecture of the Lyceum and the beauty of the surrounding buildings.

“When you think of great collections of Greek architecture, only one place comes to mind: Mississippi. No?” Thrillist writes. “Well, the original campus building, the Lyceum, is a classic white-columned structure with massive brick wings that anchors an entire historic district within the campus.

“The Circle, as it’s known, looks more like an area you’d find in D.C. than Oxford, with long, brick buildings stretching throughout. And Ole Miss’ beauty isn’t limited to the architecture, as anyone who’s spent a Saturday tailgating in the Grove can attest.”

Jeff McManus, UM director of landscape services, said the university and his team is “humbled and honored” by recognition of the campus’ beauty. He thanked the administration, including the chancellor, Provost Morris Stocks and Vice Chancellor Larry Sparks for supporting his efforts.

“Our Landscape Services vision, on the ground, in the weeds and trees is to ‘Cultivate Greatness’ – to inspire our students, faculty and staff – to give them an environment in which they can grow and produce,” McManus said. “We set our standards high and today, we are especially proud to be Landscape Rebels.”

The NCAA recently released a video of college football’s most unique tailgates, with the Grove being ranked No. 1, referred to as “the Holy Grail of Tailgating.” Others listed include University of California’s Tightwad Hill, which lets fans view into the stadium and see the game for free, and the University of Washington’s Husky Navy and University of Tennessee’s Vol Navy, which both allow partying near the football stadiums on boats.

FanSided ranks Oxford as the country’s second-best college town, bested only by Athens, Georgia, home of the University of Georgia.

“Ole Miss is another school where enrollment somehow outnumbers the town it resides in in terms of population,” FanSided writes. “The enrollment may be hovering around 23,000, but go to one tailgate in Oxford, MS and you’ll think it’s 100,000. Students and non-students alike love their Rebels.”

Of all the reasons Oxford is getting such attention, the biggest is that people love to call the city home, said Jon Maynard, president and CEO of the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Foundation. For decades, locals have been serious about making their growing community the best it can be, he said.

“Attention to detail, high expectations and adherence to a plan to be great is why we are what we are today,” Maynard said. “The university, the city and the county are all committed to making sure that the quality that we have now will remain quality into the future. The toughest challenge that our community faces is growing without messing up that which is Oxford.”

The area’s health care system, beautiful parks, artists and musicians, business owners, entrepreneurs and longtime residents have all helped attract new businesses and also new Oxonians, he said.

“Oxford is the place where great things can happen,” Maynard said. “People from all walks of life, some without any previous affiliation to Ole Miss or Oxford, are finding that they can come and be welcomed into the community.

“They are coming for many reasons, but they are staying because of the quality that is pervasive in our community.”

Implicit Bias Expert Benjamin Reese Jr. to Speak at UM

Duke University VP to lead frank discussion on subconscious attitudes

Ben Reese, senior vice president for institutional equity

Ben Reese Jr., senior vice president for institutional equity at Duke University, speaks Thursday at UM.

OXFORD, Miss. – Benjamin Reese Jr., chief diversity officer and vice president of the Office for Institutional Equity at Duke University, will speak to University of Mississippi faculty, staff and students Thursday (Oct. 6) to discuss the role of implicit bias in people’s everyday lives.

Free and open to the public, the event is set for 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Ole Miss Student Union ballroom.

“I think everyone is familiar with explicit biases, the conscious behaviors that are discriminatory,” explained Reese, a clinical psychologist with more than four decades of experience. “However, implicit biases refer to the ways in which we behave, or make decisions, that we are not aware of.

“We may think our decisions are fair and equitable, but there is still a subconscious bias.”

Implicit bias is a judgement and/or behavior that is rooted deep in subconscious attitudes and/or beliefs. Implicit biases can be either positive or negative toward a specific group with certain characteristics, such as age, appearance, race, sexuality or weight.

“We want people to be aware that we all have biases,” said Nichelle Robinson, UM School of Education diversity officer, who coordinated the event. “It’s once we are aware of these biases that we can begin to work to change these behaviors.”

During the event, Reese will define implicit bias and share steps that individuals can use to identify and decrease these subconscious judgements.

He will also discuss free implicit association tests that can help individuals identify their own implicit biases. One example is Project Implicit, hosted by Harvard University.

bias“I think it’s important to walk away (from this discussion) with an understanding of how bias develops within us,” Reese said. “There is some compelling research that suggests all of the different ways that implicit bias operates, and I will give some examples so people can gain an understanding of their own everyday decisions.”

Reese also will conduct a special session with students from the School of Education at 9 a.m. Friday (Oct. 7) at the Jackson Avenue Center.

For close to 40 years, Reese has consulted both public and private institutions on organizational change, conflict resolution, race relations, diversity and more.

The event is sponsored by the UM School of Education, Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, and Office of Multicultural Affairs.