USM Faculty Senate remarks at President Search Session


President Search Committee during the Listening Session Monday, October 3, 2022. Photo Credit | Sean Smith, Photo Editor

Remarks to IHL Board Presidential Search Committee on October 3, 2022 

Prepared by the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate (Denis Wiesenburg, Emily Stanback, Jennifer Courts and Candice Salyers. 

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today as you begin the search for the University of Southern Mississippi’s next President. I speak today on behalf of the USM faculty as President of the Faculty Senate. We have about 600 faculty at USM. Considering that it typically takes seven years after an undergraduate degree to complete a Ph.D., that means our faculty have over 4,000 years of combined experience preparing to become faculty members—in addition to our combined years of service to the University and to Mississippi. Our fields of study cover everything from Anthropology to Business to Management to Polymer Science to Visual Arts. Our faculty is a brain trust that we believe the next USM President should take advantage of, and that we likewise hope the Presidential Search Committee takes advantage of in the coming months.    

In our next President, we need someone who will work in partnership with the faculty and staff to guide our university into the future. That partnership must include a dedication to academic freedom, the bedrock principle of higher education in the United States which enables faculty to teach and research according to their expertise—guided by truth rather than expediency, even in cases when the truths at hand are difficult ones to confront.  

In our next President, we need someone who is dedicated to including the best minds at USM in determining our common goals and how to accomplish the University’s mission.  Some call this shared governance. Regardless of what it is called, strong leaders know that including their constituents in the decision-making process produces better decisions. It also can lead to a more stable and cohesive community, and can lead to greater innovation. 

In our next President, we need someone who has distinguished themselves as a leader in their field. They need not necessarily have a terminal degree, but they need to have shown effective leadership. To our minds, the most effective leaders do not see themselves as managers, but rather see themselves as collaborators in the shared endeavor of higher education. Interim  President Joe Paul has described his vision of the University as a dance between the faculty and the students—with the administration as the prom committee.  

In our next President, we need someone who shares Dr. Paul’s vision and strives to provide the resources needed for the dance between our faculty and students to be successful. Our faculty at USM are dedicated to their students through teaching, research, service, and mentorship. In its Mission, USM defines itself as a “community of engaged citizens” who seek to “serv[e] Mississippi, the nation, and the world,” and outlines its Vision as “a model student-centered public research university.” Faculty are key to achieving these goals, and we need a President who acknowledges our role in achieving the University’s Mission and Vision, and is committed to supporting us in working for the benefit of our students and the University community. 

We believe that a “model student-centered public research university” that seeks to “serv[e]” requires a particular kind of leader—one who won’t seek the role for the prominence it might offer but for the good that it might enable them to accomplish.   

Thank you for listening to us at the beginning of this presidential search process. We hope that you will allow our vibrant and dedicated University community to play a significant role as the search progresses. In particular, we hope you will draw on the brain trust of USM’s Faculty and allow us to assist you in choosing a President that will work collaboratively with us to move the University forward in the years to come.