By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – Jim Pate has a soft spot for nontraditional students.
As dean of the University of Mississippi’s Tupelo campus for the past nine years, he has interacted with many adult learners who were often trying to balance jobs and families while pursuing higher education.
“They sometimes get kind of lost in the system,” Pate said. “They have a lot of challenges in their personal lives, so it is important to show some patience and concern to help them along. Sometimes life has been really tough, and our folks do a great job of working with them.”
Pate will retire on June 30, following a 47-year career in education. The school will host a retirement reception in his honor from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday at the Advanced Education Center, located at 1918 Briar Ridge Road.
“He is a real advocate for nontraditional students,” said Aretha Nabors, senior admissions clerk. “He makes sure we find classes accessible to them with their work life and schedule. Sometimes people don’t understand how difficult that is to do.”
Pate began his tenure in August 2005 after serving as vice president for academic affairs and professor of history at Northeastern State University in Oklahoma for seven years. He’s overseen enrollment growth on the campus, which has 14 degree programs – the largest being elementary education, business, social work and criminal justice.
When he started, the Tupelo campus had about 540 students, and the Booneville campus – which he also oversees – had about 20 to 30. Today there are about 800 students in Tupelo and 60 in Booneville. They peaked two years ago with around 915 and 90 students, respectively.
“I hope I have raised awareness of the regional campuses in the Northeast Mississippi area,” he said. “When I first started, a lot of people told me they didn’t realize the university was here.”
He’s also been active in the community, serving on the Community Development Foundation board, Rotary Club, CREATE Foundation committees and former Mayor Jack Reed Jr.’s Education Task Force.
“Dr. Pate has played an invaluable role in the economic development of this region, committed to providing our community opportunities for higher education,” said David Rumbarger, CDF president.
Now, Pate, 71, said it is time for him to “look at other things.” He has several research and book projects he plans to pursue, particularly involving Native American history and warfare. He’s already published books and encyclopedia entries on the topic.
“If I had to sum him up, I would say he is a gentleman and scholar,” said Lynne Murchison, Ole Miss assistant provost for regional education. “…I appreciate his fine mind.”
The search for his successor, she said, is ongoing.
Pate was born in Tremont, but moved to Waukegan, Ill., when he was 6 and graduated from high school there. He returned to the region to attend Itawamba Junior College and be closer to his grandparents. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Delta State University and his master’s and doctorate degrees from Mississippi State University.
His career in education began at the University of West Alabama (then called Livingston University), where he served 28 years as a professor, dean, athletic director and academic vice president. He also worked as dean of the school of arts and letters and professor of history at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
“What I’ve always loved about him is he makes you do your job,” said Alicia Goodson, administrative coordinator at UM-Tupelo. “He gives 110 percent every day. He comes in every morning and makes you want to be a better employee.”