Lucas takes presidential reigns for third term
Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012
Updated: Thursday, May 3, 2012 01:05
Aubrey K. Lucas and his famous bow ties have been involved with the University of Southern Mississippi since he was an undergraduate student in his 20s. Now, the 77-year-old has been named interim president of USM in light of Martha Saunders’s resignation, which was announced Friday and will be effective June 30.
Lucas served as president of USM from 1976 until 1995, and in 2001 he came back to serve as interim president for just under a year.
“Do you know what the funny thing is?” Lucas asked. “I’ve never left Southern Miss. I have been President Emeritus and professor of higher education, so I have been on campus serving as a professor and helping with fundraising.”
Lucas is scheduled to take over on July 1, and his appointment was officially announced Wednesday at a press conference on campus.
“We are very pleased that Dr. Lucas has agreed, once again, to take on the role of leading the University of Southern Mississippi,” said Hank Bounds, commissioner of higher education. “His love for the university is without question and his thoughtful leadership style will be an asset to the university and the system as a whole.”
Saunders, who has served as president of the university for five years, said she was pleased to hear that Lucas was chosen to fill her spot.
“I can think of no one better suited to step in as interim president than Dr. Lucas,” Saunders said. “His deep understanding of the university will serve us well.”
The news of Saunders’s resignation was met with varied reactions from students, faculty and alumni across the country, but many were happy to hear of Lucas’s appointment as interim president.
Chuck Scianna, a USM alumnus who will be the commencement speaker next week, said he was solemn when he heard Saunders would be stepping down, but has faith in Lucas.
“I believe that Dr. Saunders was the best president Southern Miss has seen since Aubrey K. Lucas,” Scianna said.
Lucas said despite his age, he is ready to tackle the role of the presidency and continue to advance the university.
“I’m a little older now than I use to be, but I still have energy,” Lucas said. “It kind of feels natural to come back to the presidency. There are a lot of wonderful things to be done, and we are seeing how that will go.”
When asked whether he would make the decision about a new athletic director, Lucas said he was not sure.
“That has not been decided,” Lucas said. “I would be able to make that decision if I were to feel it should be made now, but of course, it could always be that option that the decision will be waited for a person who will serve in the presidency for a longer term.”
Lucas began transitioning into the interim president position Wednesday, and he’s excited to get started yet again.
“This is only my first day back,” Lucas said with a laugh. “The university is doing really well now. We want to keep that momentum going.”
Lucas has also served as director of admissions, registrar, professor of higher education and dean of the Graduate School at USM.
College Board president Ed Blakeslee has faith that Lucas is the the right person for the USM presidency right now.
“His vast knowledge of higher education, and particularly the University of Southern Mississippi, will serve the university well during this transition period,” Blakeslee said.