By Errol Castens
TUPELO – Robert Khayat, chancellor emeritus of the University of Mississippi, will read from and discuss his new book, “The Education of a Lifetime,” at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Lee County Library.
It’s part of the library’s Helen Foster Lecture Series.
Khayat’s first volume was, like his chancellorship, a work he undertook reluctantly, only after friends convinced him it was a debt he owed for what he’d been given.
Often as pleasurable as it is informative, “The Education of a Lifetime” is built on scores of short accounts from Khayat’s life before and during his tenure as the institution’s transformative leader.
It may come as both comfort and surprise to many to learn just how often Khayat seemed to fail on his way to achievement. He tells of the “complimentary” D+ he was given in his first college class and a series of life-threatening bouts with pancreatitis over several decades.
There was the personal grief of his missed field goal that cost a 1958 loss to Tennessee and the institutional grief from the infamous Halloween 1959 loss to LSU.
Khayat also writes of how he had to be almost shamed into submitting his name as a chancellor candidate after a humiliating rejection for the law dean post.
He even tied the pursuit of racial reconciliation and the resulting transformation of Ole Miss’ image to the humiliating end of his father’s 37-year political career.
“Mr. Eddie,” a county supervisor, was prosecuted on abuse-of-office charges in 1973. He pled guilty to a misdemeanor, paid a fine and kept his job. Nine years later, he faced more such charges for behaviors that had once been standard for local politicians; he avoided jail but was forced out of office.
“The final years of my father’s life provide a great study in cultural change,” Khayat writes. “Attitudes about public officials and tax-funded organizations changed during his career. My father was unable, or unwilling, to adapt to the new morality of politics or protect himself.
“The similarities between the life of the father I loved and the history of the university I loved were not lost on me. I feared that Ole Miss might suffer a similar fate,” he writes. “Our university had so much that was good and strong and positive, but all that was being overshadowed by racism’s legacy. We had to change with the times.”