Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) Gulf Coast Community Meeting
This is a university-wide communication to update the students,
faculty and staff about matters of interest to the Southern Miss family.
DATE: June 6, 2006
Today, Dr. Thomas Meredith, commissioner for the IHL, conducted two meetings
with Gulf Coast leaders at the Jefferson Davis campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast
Community College in Gulfport.
The purpose of the meetings was to communicate to coastal leaders, while listening
to feedback, future location(s) of Southern Miss on the Gulf Coast following
the destruction incurred by Hurricane Katrina.
Dr. Meredith facilitated the meetings. The following IHL Board members were
present: immediate past president Virginia Shanteau Newton and board members
Roy Estess, Ed Blakeslee and Thomas Colbert. Because there was not a quorum
of board members, no public notice of this meeting was required. Attending from
Southern Miss was Dr. Shelby F. Thames, president, and Dr. Pat Joachim, associate
Coastal leaders were invited to attend the 10:30 a.m. meeting. The 1:30 p.m.
meeting was predominantly attended by local government officials.
- After introductions, there was an announcement from the University of Mississippi
Medical Center (UMMC). The medical center will affect an agreement with Keesler
Air Force Base to provide clinical training for Air Force physicians. They
currently have 100 physician slots and now will work together to maintain
and ultimately expand medical education at the Keesler site.
- Next, Dr. Thames gave an overview of Southern Miss operations on the coast
– seven locations – as well as the damage sustained in the hurricane.
Dr. Thames stated the University’s commitment to the Gulf Coast, praised
our faculty and teaching excellence, and reiterated our leadership in the
study of the marine and ocean sciences and in other areas of distinctive competence
that are relevant to the coast. Prior to the storm, 64 degree programs were
offered on the coast. Today we offer 67, exemplifying our commitment to growth
and presence on the Gulf Coast.
- Next, Dr. Meredith discussed the J.L Scott facility. Totally destroyed,
it has now been leveled and is being hauled away. The IHL has one year from
Katrina to decide the use of the property or it reverts to other ownership.
In the interim, the Isle of Capri has leased the property to be used for parking.
The cost to build a new J.L. Scott facility is estimated at $40 million. Individuals
from Biloxi expressed a desire to have it rebuilt in conjunction with other
museums and cultural centers near the site. But funding sources for this are
unknown at this time, stated Meredith.
- Dr. Meredith announced the IHL Board’s decision to remain at the Gulf
Park location. Gulf Park will remain a viable entity in the Southern Miss
approach to deliver higher education to the Gulf Coast.
- Several of the existing buildings are “salvageable” and three
other buildings will probably be designated as “historic” buildings,
thereby requiring massive amounts of dollars, as Meredith said, to repair
them to a state of use.
- The IHL Board also announced its intent to purchase property for an additional
campus, approximately 100 to 150 acres. With the projected growth of the Gulf
Coast in the next decade, Meredith commented that he didn’t want to
look back in 10 years and regret not having facilities large enough to support
the kind of growth projected for the coast and for Southern Miss.
- More property at the interim Gulfport location has already been purchased
by Southern Miss to accommodate additional parking, offices and classrooms.
Even with this intent to move forward on the coast, Meredith noted, it may
be up to five years in the current location before new facilities would be
- Efforts are underway currently with FEMA and insurance companies to collect
dollars on the damaged sites. Regardless of these efforts, it will take considerable
additional funding for renovation at Gulf Park as well as for an additional
- Dr. Meredith was strong and clear in his intent to have Southern Miss be
the university to continue to serve the coastal counties. He praised the administration,
staff and faculty for their efforts following the hurricane and noted that
it was a remarkable feat to be back in class following a disaster of this
- Board members, and specifically Virginia Shanteau Newton, stated the IHL’s
unwavering support for higher education for the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Her
comments were empathetic and clear.
- State legislators remarked repeatedly their support of Southern Miss and
people of the Gulf Coast, insuring the delivery of higher education.
- The overall tone of the meeting was one of open exchange and communication.
The IHL will convene its regularly scheduled meeting next Wednesday prior to
a scheduled retreat.