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USM has a New President and it’s a Historic Hire

By Lawayne Childrey | Published 07 Feb 2013 08:25pm | comments

The first Black President of a predominately white university in the state is already mapping a strategy for his role as the leader of  the University of Southern Mississippi. MPB 's Lawayne Childrey reports on the expectations of Dr. Rodney Bennett.


Dozens of students, faculty  and college board members gathered in a small auditorium yesterday to welcome Rodney Bennett to the University of Southern Mississippi. The 46 year old is the former Vise President of Student Affairs at the university of Georgia. He says his first priority as USM president will be to  improve finances even if it means cutting programs to get the system back on stable footing.


"I intend to work with faculty senate and with staff council with ways to do that. You know I think all of us understand we need to be a stable, vital,  vibrant organization. But how we make those decisions have to be a collaborative effort  versus those of us just in the dome making those decisions,"


Bennett has been described as a leader who understands the most critical issues facing higher education today. Those are the characteristics impressed USM Juniors Kayla Purvis and Billy Barnes. 


"You know a fresh face, someone that's really eager to be involved in the student body and really putting emphasis on recruiting new students. And the president being there and being seen by the student body as not just being someone in higher authority."


"Well I've been here for three years and I came here with a lot of people and they're gone. They're not her with me. And I would like to see more of my race here. I believe with him being here and seen an African American as president that'll inspire them to say I can do it to it's possible it's believable."


Bennett is USM's 10th president. Ed Blakeslee, President of the Board of Trustees for the State College Board says he knew Bennett was the right man for the job the moment he read his resume.


"He said you win with people and you do and not everybody understands that. And he blew me away on both of the interviews. And I've spent 40 years and organizations having to do with leadership and when he spoke I just said wow!"


Bennett is a Tennessee native with a doctorate degree from Tennessee State University. Lawayne Childrey MPB News.




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