Ole Miss Ceremony
Khayat officially assumes reins
Chancellor’s investiture marked
by largest gift announcement
By Stephen Singer
OXFORD – Robert C. Khayat brought a $5.4 million gift to his inauguration Thursday as the 25th chancellor of the University of Mississippi.
Khayat announced the endowment – the largest in the university’s history – from James L. and Sally McDonnell Barksdale of Mountain View, Calif., during a speech concluding the nearly three-hour ceremony celebrating his investiture.
The Barksdales are alumni of Ole Miss. James Barksdale is president and chief executive of Netscape, a San Francisco-based firm that provides software for Internet users.
The gift will be used to endow the McDonnell-Barksdale Honors College on the Oxford campus. The endowment will pay for an Honors College building with high-technology classrooms, labs and offices for academic departments.
It also will fund four $24,000 scholarships and support overseas studies, according to the university.
The gift is a major boost for Khayat, who made a top priority of transforming the university’s honors program into a college.
Celebrating ‘one of our own’
Khayat’s announcement capped a morning devoted to celebrating not only new beginnings, but the elevation of an Ole Miss alumnus – only the fifth in the university’s 148-year history – to the university’s top post.
“I accept this office not as a stranger, but as someone who came here as an 18-year-old and found a home,” Khayat told the audience of more than 1,500 at Tad Smith Coliseum. “On behalf of all who love and care about this university, I accept this trust.”
“We look to one of our own, Robert Conrad Khayat, to provide leadership as we enter the 21st century,” said A. Wallace Conerly, vice chancellor for health affairs.
“The university family called clearly and loudly for this man to lead this university,” said James Luvene, vice president of the board of trustees.
Khayat, who will be 58 Thursday, has been chancellor since last June. The Board of Trustees of the state Institutions of Higher Learning appointed Khayat, a law professor and director of the University’s sesquicentennial.
His ability to draw a multimillion-dollar endowment may have come from practice. While he was vice chancellor for university affairs between 1984 and 1989, he is credited with helping raise nearly $41 million for the Campaign for Ole Miss.
The fund-raising drive was established to endow faculty positions, student scholarships and update teaching and research buildings.
Gov. Kirk Fordice may have anticipated Khayat’s announcement for the honors program, which university officials hope will keep Mississippi’s brightest students in the state.
“The brain drain exodus of students is coming to a close,” Fordice told the audience.
The governor linked the university with state economic development efforts. “We conquered our weaknesses and capitalized on our native strengths.” he said. “The Mississippi economic miracle will continue to grow.”
Fiction in law class
Among Khayat’s former students are novelist John Grisham, 1st District U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker, Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and state Supreme Court Justice Mike Mills.
Grisham recalled that he, Musgrove and Mills were in the same class taught by Khayat in the late 1970s. “None of us ended up practicing law,” he told the audience.
Grisham went on to relate that Khayat had given him a grade higher than he expected. On his final paper, the professor wrote, “Although you missed most of the legal issues, you have a real talent for fiction,” Grisham recalled.
After his first novel was published, Khayat called to tell the now best-selling writer, “I knew you could do it,” Grisham said.