October 1, 2014  

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College Board Announces Bennett as Preferred Candidate for Southern Miss President

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The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning announced on Friday, Feb. 1 the selection of Dr. Rodney D. Bennett as the preferred candidate for the  presidency of The University of Southern Mississippi.

[Campus Visit Schedule Feb. 6-7]

Bennett has a wealth of experience in higher education and currently serves as the Vice President for Student Affairs for the University of Georgia in Athens. In this role, he has been actively involved in all facets of student life, from improving facilities to creating service learning opportunities and celebrating the spirit of diversity on campus.

He has helped raise funds to enhance student life on campus and improved communications with faculty, staff, students and parents on the Athens campus and three UGA extended campuses.

Bennett serves as Chair of the UGA Athletic Association NCAA Recertification process, including the institutional self-study. In addition, he was a member of the on-site committee for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, reviewing compliance areas related to student life and student affairs.

Bennett was recommended by the Board Search Committee, chaired by Trustee Robin Robinson, with input from the Campus Search Advisory Committee and the Interview Search Advisory Committee following careful review of all applications and two rounds of interviews.

“With a student-centered approach grounded in experience in all facets of the university, Dr. Bennett brings a tremendous depth of knowledge of higher education, its challenges and how to meet the challenges to help more students succeed in the classroom and beyond,” said Ed Blakeslee, president of the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning. “I believe the Board of
Trustees has made an excellent choice for the next leader of the University of Southern Mississippi."

As president of the Board of Trustees, Blakeslee appointed a Board Search Committee to manage the search. The members of the USM Board Search Committee include Robin Robinson, Chair; Dr. Ford Dye, Bob Owens, Aubrey Patterson and Christy Pickering.

“I would like to thank Trustee Robin Robinson for her service as chair and for the other members of the Board Search Committee for their efforts in leading the search process,” said Blakeslee.

As Vice President for Student Affairs, Bennett provides leadership in the design of student services and co-curricular programs that emphasize experiential student learning. He has also provided leadership and oversight for approximately $150 million of Student Affairs construction projects, including expansion of the Tate Student Center, student housing facilities, the University Health Center and the Ramsey Center for Physical Activities and Club Sports Complex and
improvements to the Greek letter houses.

“I am extremely proud to see another University of Georgia vice president chosen to serve in a
presidential position,” said University of Georgia President Michael F. Adams. “UGA’s strength lies in the efforts of the entire team, and this selection speaks well of the expertise represented by that team. Rodney brings a breadth of experience, talent, and dedication to his work, and I wish
him well as he begins this new leadership role.”

Bennett holds a Doctor of Education Degree in Educational Administration from Tennessee State University in Nashville, a Specialist in Education Degree and a Master of Education Degree in Educational Administration from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mass Communication from Middle Tennessee State.

“Rodney Bennett’s outstanding and dedicated service at the University of Georgia has earned him the respect of both students and faculty, said University of Georgia Provost Jere Morehead. “He is not only a very student-centered leader but understands well the important role the faculty plays. A particular strength has been his ability to assemble a great team. He and his wonderful family will make a great first family for Southern Mississippi.”

Prior to serving as Vice President of Student Affairs, Bennett served as Dean of Students and as Interim Provost for Institutional Diversity at the University of Georgia. He has also served as Dean of Students at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. and in a number of student life positions,
including Associate Dean of Student Life, at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

“I would like to thank the members of the Campus Search Advisory Committee, under the leadership of Lou Ann Poytner, for serving as the voice of the university and campus community,” said Trustee Robin Robinson, chair of the Board Search Committee for the University of  Southern Mississippi presidential search, an ad hoc  committee of the Board of Trustees. “I appreciate the time and effort they have devoted to the process and their  dedication to finding the best possible candidate to serve as president."

Campus listening sessions were held in September with constituency groups for the members of the Board Search Committee and the Campus Search Advisory Committee to hear what qualities and qualifications stakeholders believed the next institutional executive officer should possess.

After careful review of all applicants, the Campus Search Advisory Committee submitted the names of several candidates unranked to the Board Search Committee and selected the Interview Search Advisory Committee. The Board selected the candidates to be interviewed and two rounds of interviews were held.

The members of the University of Southern Mississippi Campus Search Advisory Committee include: Rosemary Aultman, Chuck Scianna, Bonnie Warren, Cindy Williams, Rex Kelly, Lou Ann Poynter, Tom Lansford, Sheila White, Mary Adams, Anthony Bell, Jennifer Brannock, Kimberly
Davis, Sheila Davis, Desmond Fletcher, Gwen Pate, Fei Xue, Kenny Zantow, Eric Powell, Heather Brown, April Jordan, Sheri Rawls, Frederick Varnado, Vernon Asper, Alvin Williams, Jazmyne Butler, Ameer Jackson, Laura Perry, Johnny Atherton, Kim Bradley, Johnny Dupree, David Hogan, and Ralph Simmons.

“The input we received from across the campus community was invaluable to us as we reviewed the applications,” said Lou Ann Poynter, chair of the Campus Search Advisory Committee. “We believe Dr. Bennett addresses the needs expressed to us and has a vision for moving Southern Miss to the next level.”

Bennett will meet with campus constituency groups on a visit to the Hattiesburg and Gulf Park campuses. The visits will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 6 and Thursday, Feb. 7, according to the following schedule. While all sessions are open to the public, each session focuses on the
needs of a specific constituency group.

Tentative Schedule:
Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013

3 p.m. : Faculty, Staff and Students
Fleming Education Center Auditorium
Gulf Park Campus
730 East Beach Blvd.
Long Beach, MS 39560
3:45 p.m. : Coast Alumni and Community Leaders
Fleming Education Center Auditorium
Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013
8 a.m. : Administration and Staff
Hattiesburg, Thad Cochran Center, Room 218
8:45 a.m. : Faculty
Hattiesburg, Thad Cochran Center, Room 218
9:30 a.m. : Students
Hattiesburg, Thad Cochran Center, Room 218
10:15 a.m. : Campus and Community
Hattiesburg, Thad Cochran Center, Room 218
12:30 p.m. Board of Trustees Meeting
Hattiesburg, Thad Cochran Center, Room 226
1:00 p.m. Press Conference
Hattiesburg, Thad Cochran Center, Room 218

The Board of Trustees will meet to consider the selection of Dr. Bennett as President of the University of Southern Mississippi on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013 at 12:30 p.m. The Board meeting will be held in Room 226 of the Thad Cochran Center on the Hattiesburg campus of the University of Southern Mississippi, located at 121 West Memorial Drive.

Members of the Board may participate in the meeting via teleconference. An executive session may be held in accordance with the Open Meetings Act.