Preferred USM presidential candidate announced
Bennett to visit Hattiesburg campus Thursday
Published: Monday, February 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 4, 2013 23:02
The president’s office in the Aubrey K. Lucas Administration Building will soon have a new occupant. Mississippi’s Institutions of Higher Learning announced Friday that Dr. Rodney D. Bennett of the University of Georgia is the preferred candidate for USM president.
Bennett currently serves as UGA’s Vice President for Student Affairs, overseeing several units within the Division of Student Affairs including the Office of the Dean of Students, Leadership and Service and Greek Life and a student population of 34,000. He has helped raised thousands in funds to help student life on UGA’s campus, including overseeing more than $150 million in various student-related projects, which helped student housing facilities, Greek houses and health and sport centers.
Southern Miss Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Joe Paul said he has known Bennett for a while and feels that he will be an excellent fit for the position.
“Our students will find him to be extraordinarily student-centered, engaging and personable,” Paul said. “He believes in a team approach to leading a university, and I believe he will do an excellent job in pulling our students faculty and staff together in taking Southern Miss to the top.”
Commissioner Hank Bounds, along with several other members of the Board of Trustees and Campus Advisory Search Committee, met in Jackson to deliver the news on Friday. Bounds said USM is adding a great addition to the Golden Eagle family.
“This is an important day for Southern Miss,” Bounds said. “From the first time I met him, I was completely amazed by how articulate he was, about his leadership skills, the breadth of his experience from working with students and researchers to working with athletic programs and guiding his university through an NCAA accreditation process. We have the full package.”
The next step in the process will be conducted Wednesday and Thursday. Bennett will visit the Gulf Park Campus on Wednesday, followed by a visit to the Hattiesburg campus on Thursday.
A student forum is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Thursday in Room 218 of the Thad Cochran Center, and all students are invited to attend.
On Thursday at 12:30 p.m., the Board of Trustees will meet on the Hattiesburg campus to vote whether Bennett will become the 10th president of the university. Prior to the vote, Thad Cochran Center, Room 218 will be reserved for faculty, students, and the campus and community for an open session with Bennett.
The Board’s decision will be announced immediately at a 1 p.m. press conference.
The presidential search process began in early September after former president Dr. Martha Saunders abruptly stepped down from her position in Spring 2012. The 20-step process was originally meant to wrap up by Jan. 1, but the process was delayed for unspecified reasons.
The Board Search Committee, made up of alumni, faculty and staff, students and community members, assisted the search, and IHL Board of Trustees President Ed Blakeslee said there were significant reasons to seek input and involvement from so many constituents groups.
“As a board selecting the leaders of our state’s institutions of higher learning, it is a very important job and probably the most important job we do as a board,” Blakeslee said. “We understand the importance of leadership. Picking the right leader for a university includes involving and listening the campus community. The board feels the process has worked as it should.”
One alumni representative from the board Lou Ann Poynter thinks Bennett was undeniably the right choice. “We’re deeply committed to the success of The University of Southern Mississippi,” Poynter said. “All of the candidates interviewed were accomplished and abled educators, however, one candidate clearly rose above the others to us. I’m confident they [the Southern Miss body] will be as pleased with him as I am.”
Bennett attended Middle Tennessee State University, where he earned both his undergraduate and master’s degrees. Following his time at MTSU, Bennett earned his Doctor of Education degree from Tennessee State University.
He served as Dean of Students at Winthrop University in South Carolina. In 2001, he accepted the position as Dean of Students at the University of Georgia, and then served as UGA’s chief diversity officer. Bennett currently serves as Vice President for Student Affairs at UGA.