Jeffrey Vitter, a computer scientist and an accomplished academic who serves as the Provost of Kansas University, will be confirmed as the newest Chancellor of Ole Miss, per Clay Chandler of the Clarion-Ledger. The state's College Board will announce the hire at 2 p.m. Central today, concluding a months-long search that resulted from former Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones' abrupt termination this past March. That termination was met with protests from Ole Miss faculty, staff, students, and alumni who viewed the termination as wrongful and politically motivated.
This led to concerns that the Mississippi Institutes of Higher Learning would make a hire that served their general interests, and not the more specific interests of Ole Miss. This hire should assuage some of those concerns, as Vitter has a curriculum vitae worthy of the position and comes from a position that affords him what may be a valuable outsider perspective. It may raise some concerns among students, fans, and alumni, however, due to this being the first non-alumnus hire for this position since Gerald Turner took the position in 1984.
So, who is this guy?
If anything, Jeffrey Vitter's got a pretty damn impressive CV. From that, we learn that Vitter's got a B.S. in mathematics from Notre Dame, a Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford, and an MBA from Duke. He taught computer science at Brown and Duke, having earned a distinguished professorship at the latter. He was then the Dean of the College of Science at Purdue. After Purdue, he took the Provost job at Texas A&M and, later, Kansas, where he served as the school's executive vice chancellor for the past five years. He's published approximately a gazillion things, holds a few patents, is a member of every academic society worth mentioning, and has secured millions worth of research dollars for his work.
Most notably, he initiated and co-led a major strategic effort at Kansas that developed core curriculum standards, updated aging facilities, expanded schools and programs, and secured funding for research and scholarship. This work, along with the rest of his mile-long resume, made Vitter a sought-after commodity; earlier this month, he was named as a finalist to take over the vacant Chancellorship at Arkansas.
In short, he's a very accomplished academic with no previous ties to Ole Miss or Mississippi. That makes him a bit of an unorthodox Ole Miss Chancellor.
Why do I find this name familiar?
Oh, you're probably thinking of Jeffrey's brother David, a Louisiana politician who is the state's senior Senator and is running for the Governorship of the Pelican State. Vitter's made a bit of a name for himself as an influential Tea Party Republican, something that could worry those who are ready to pounce on a new hire for being "political."
Jeff Vitter, though, isn't David Vitter. The only political donations of his we've found are those made to his brother's various campaigns. His background does not lend itself to presuming any political inclinations on Jeff Vitter's part one way or another, so it is tough to conclude that the decision to nominate him as Chancellor is politically motivated.
But this is a sports blog, not a school or politics blog, right?
That is (sorta) right! But y'all know as well as we do how politically incendiary and divisive Dan Jones' ouster became. You all also are well aware that past Ole Miss Chancellors have had tremendous impacts on Ole Miss athletics, both positively and negatively. Jeff Vitter, to his great credit, has academic leadership experience at schools with strong Division-1 athletics programs and brands.* He should understand how important strong athletics success can be to improved academic outcomes and, if he can be an effective enough leader, should be able to continue Ole Miss' near constant upward trajectory in both areas we've become used to since the early 1990s.
*He also worked at Purdue, which was a very nice thing for him to do.