By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Robert Khayat stood before hundreds of friends, colleagues and admirers Friday, gracious if a touch reluctant in accepting a permanent honor from the university he has served in countless roles since 1956.
A near-capacity crowd gathered at the Gertrude C. Ford Center to dedicate a new building at the other end of the University of Mississippi campus as the Robert C. Khayat Law Center.
“This truly is a wonderful day not only for the university, but also for a man who has given great effort, immeasurable love and notable ability to our entire university, including its School of Law,” said Chancellor Dan Jones, who succeeded Khayat as Ole Miss’ chief executive in 2009.
“His work and devotion have transformed this university and brought her great admiration and respect,” Jones said. “He and his wife, Margaret … have unselfishly given their lives to this university, and we are profoundly grateful.”
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant noted Khayat’s role in the law school’s success.
“This law school has created great men and women,” Bryant said. “I believe it will go on to produce public servants … (that) will go on to change the world, as Robert C. Khayat has.”
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker provided the day’s biggest laughs with a Superman spoof.
“Khayat Man – who can change the course of a mighty university, bend the wills of student bodies and alumni with the force of his persuasiveness, talk elderly widows into leaving large endowments,” Wicker said before bringing down the house with a nudging reminder that just such a gift helped create the Ford Center: “We love you, Gertrude.”
Aubrey Patterson of Tupelo, a member of the Board of Trustees for the Institutions of Higher Learning, formally presented the new 155,000-square-foot law facility to Chancellor Jones.
“We’re honoring the legacy of Dr. Robert Khayat and celebrating the future of this great public university, of which the law center will be an integral part,” Patterson said.
Noting that Khayat’s legacy includes a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, the Croft Institute for International Studies, the Lott Leadership Institute and Ole Miss’ first hosting of a Presidential Debate, he added, “Now that we know what’s possible, we’re encouraged to dream even bigger dreams.”
First of its kind
The Khayat Law Center is Ole Miss’ first building to be LEED (Leadership in Energy, Environment and Design) registered with the U.S. Green Building Council. Its innovative use of energy, materials and systems is expected to be LEED-certified at the Gold level.
Author John Grisham outlined a hope that graduates of the new law school will increasingly devote time and talent to the needs of people who can’t afford legal representation for civil matters or to appeal wrongful convictions.
“I hope this law school trains young lawyers who firmly believe a license to practice law is a powerful tool best used when defending the poor and the weak and the falsely accused,” he said.
One unmentioned irony in Friday’s dedication was that Khayat, who served Ole Miss in a variety of positions including law professor and vice chancellor for development, was rejected as dean of the School of Law whose building now bears his name in perpetuity. Though Khayat was disappointed at the time, friends have often called the rejection providential, as it was the very next year when his tenure as chancellor – a time often referred to as a “Golden Age” for Ole Miss – began.
Khayat deflected credit on Friday with appreciation toward others who contributed to the new law school. He attributed to Provost Emeritus and former Law School Dean Carolyn Ellis Staton the idea for a new law school facility.
“She felt we needed a new law building, and she knew we needed more classrooms,” he said. “She pushed and prodded a lot of people to help, and she did not rest until we announced we would build a new $50 million law center.”
Khayat quoted Isaiah 40:30-31 – ‘Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings, like eagles; they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint’ – and applied it to the law school project and the whole university.
“Again and again, we have watched the people of Ole Miss rise like eagles to accomplish the impossible. Our people – our faculty, students, staff, alumni and friends – never weary in their efforts to make this university better, and they never faint when Ole Miss calls,” Khayat said. “It is this spirit that has enriched our lives in countless ways.”