...Lucas says ‘hello’
Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 6, 2012 00:09
When Aubrey K. Lucas was asked to serve as interim president at the University of Southern Mississippi for a second time, his answer was no.
The 78-year-old Southern Miss grad, who served as president from 1975 until 1997 and again as interim president in 2001, said his age kept him from immediately agreeing to the job this time.
“I tried to get out of it because of my age,” Lucas said. “I’m 78 years old. I should be doing other things. I never imagined I’d be back in this position again.”
Lucas, who came to USM in 1952 as an undergraduate student in education, said his main reason for finally accepting the position was his love for the university.
“I knew I was needed, and I’ve tried to answer that need in my career,” Lucas said. “The board wanted me to do it, sincerely wanted me to do it, and Southern Miss is a wonderful place. It’s special.”
Lucas was approached in April when USM’s ninth president Martha Saunders unexpectedly stepped down from her position, leaving a hole in the administration that Lucas stepped in to fill.
“While I think the university was generally saddened, you must realize the really important work here is done by the faculty,” Lucas said. “Presidents come and go, but the faculty and staff really make this place work.
Lucas said when he was first approached about the position in the spring, the timeline for hiring a new president was still under discussion, but the goal was Jan. 1.
“We were looking at January 1 before, and we’re still hoping that’s what we’ll be able to do,” Lucas said.
As interim president, Lucas said his duties aren’t that different of a regular president.
“The work of a president still has to be done,” Lucas said. “But you don’t have to worry about the long-term responsibilities, though we are doing some long-term thinking and planning here because we have to.”
Sixty years ago, when Lucas was an undergraduate student at USM, he did not have dreams of becoming president of the university.... three times.
“I wanted to be a teacher, an elementary teacher,” Lucas said. “I somehow got into university administration, and that’s where I’ve been ever since.”
While some things have changed, Lucas says he still enjoys the position.
“There’s a lot I enjoy about this position, like getting to know the faculty, students and staff and interacting with them on a regular basis, ” Lucas said. “The amount of work can be overwhelming though, especially the e-mail.”
Southern Miss continues to exceed past records, something Lucas says is worth being excited about.
“USM is the strongest it’s ever been academically,” Lucas said. “We’re bringing in almost 70 new tenured faculty for this fall, our physical plant is better, athletics is strong and we have set a record for private money donations. Everything is trending beautifully.”
Lucas can still be seen sporting his iconic fashion statement: a bow-tie.
“It’s become a trademark of sorts,” he said.