The pattern has become all too familiar – a five-year president departs Southern Miss under a cloud of controversy, and we start anew the process of searching for a leader who can help us “move to the next level.”
The past three presidents (not counting Aubrey Lucas’ one-year caretaker turn) – Horace Fleming, Shelby Thames, and now Martha Saunders – share this disappointing storyline, despite their striking differences of background, vision and style.
Many are quick to point out that the tenure of university presidents these days isn’t much longer than five years anyway (actually, I think it’s currently running better than eight years), so maybe our experience is fairly “normal” after all.
Will university life go on at a fairly steady pace? Of course. Faculty will teach and research and participate in the processes of shared governance. Staff will manage offices and provide essential quality services. Students will attend classes and progress toward degree completion and graduation. But the pattern of short-term presidential turnover is ugly and damaging. The result is a setback to the strategic direction, momentum and morale of the Southern Miss community.
Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking otherwise.