OXFORD – Robert C. Khayat remembers death threats and being stalked in 1997 as he ended official use of the Confederate flag on the University of Mississippi campus.
His sharpest critics prayed he would leave.
Twelve years later, he’s making plans to do just that, leave the state for a while after his June 30 retirement.
The 70-year-old Khayat retires next month after 14 years at his alma mater’s helm. In an interview in the university’s Spring 2009 edition of its alumni magazine, he reveals the details on his biggest challenge – ending the legacy of the Rebel flag.
Seen by much of the nation as a symbol of racism, the flag was considered by others, especially in the South, as the banner of their own white heritage, and not all that bad.
He admitted receiving death threats and thousands of pieces of mail “just excoriating me.”
More than a dozen mailed items were reviewed by law enforcement “because they were sort of frightening,” he recalled in an interview with Barbara Lago, director of campus media and public relations.
“And there was one person who followed me around for about eight months,” the Moss Point native said. “Every time I spoke somewhere, he was there, and he looked at me with a mean look.”
Ole Miss officials adopted a ban on stick flags in the fall of 1997, weeks after then-head football coach Tommy Tuberville asked fans not to wave Confederate flags at games.
Tuberville said he didn’t want the flag associated with Ole Miss because of mixed perceptions of its meaning. The Associated Student Body adopted a resolution supporting the coach’s request.
Umbrellas, alcoholic beverages and flags no larger than 12 inches by 14 inches also were part of the university’s ban.
In 2000, it was upheld by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Khayat termed 1997 his most trying time as he sought to get people to understand that the Confederate flag could not be a symbol for Ole Miss.
“I understand the feelings people have about that flag,” the former Ole Miss Law School professor said. “But I also understand that if we were going to be citizens in the national community, then we could not be known by the Confederate flag.”
Khayat steps down June 30. When he does, he says he’ll get away from Oxford for a while and consider another job.
He said he’ll “try to separate emotionally from Ole Miss and Mississippi.” After that, “I might begin looking at opportunities to do something that would enable me to use the experience I’ve gained in this wonderful position.”
The search for his replacement has entered its final stages with the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Education. Thus far, few names have become public in the secret process.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal