Patsy Brumfield 5/14/09
Lloyd Gray 6/17/09
* Honors college announcement
* Croft Institute donation
* Initiative on Race town meeting
* Lott Institute gala
* $100M for Barksdale Reading Institute
* Phi Beta Kappa chapter
* $525M capital campaign
* Stadium expansion
* Open Doors observance
* Winter Institute named
* Ford Center opens
* $15M raised for Katrina help
* 2008 Presidential Debate
“My entire life seems to have prepared me for this job, at this time, in this place.” – Robert C. Khayat, 1995 during his interview for Ole Miss chancellor.
“He is able to make people believe in themselves. He inspires people to be better than they thought they could be.” – Warner Alford, former Alumni Affairs executive director and former Khayat teammate.
Khayat: It was all about respect
* A 14-year run as chancellor led Ole Miss to a new level of recognition and promise
By Patsy R. Brumfield
Robert Conrad Khayat’s vision for the University of Mississippi can be crystalized into one word: respect.
Respect as an educational institution.
Respect for its faculty and students.
Respect for the people who came before and made it what it became.
“I truly think history will treat him as one of the heroes of Ole Miss,” said former Provost Carolyn Staton, a longtime colleague and friend.
Ole Miss historian Dr. David Sansing is even more direct.
He believes Khayat’s 14 years at the Oxford institution’s helm, a tenure that officially ends this week, led it from a financially broke and battered school for Mississippi’s privileged to the much-praised and accomplished host of the first 2008 Presidential Debate. That attainment is the broad, courageous completion of the vision held in the 1850s by Chancellor Frederick A.P. Barnard, a gifted man of science who wanted to make Ole Miss one of the great universities.
What Robert Khayat has done, Sansing insists, is to have accomplished what Barnard and all those chancellors after him dreamed of so many years ago.
“God has been involved,” Khayat says humbly as he credits, too, the leadership team he built since his hiring to lead his alma mater in June 1995.
“There’s more here than human beings can achieve.”
* * *
When Khayat became Ole Miss’ 15th chancellor, the 1961 graduate brought credibility as a Hall of Fame alumnus and the strong connections to remake the school’s image.
Essentially, that was his No. 1 goal in his 21 October 1997 “Critical Success Factors” he developed to make Ole Miss one of American’s great public universities.
“Enhance the visibility, perception and reputation of the University of Mississippi to the state, nation and world.” That’s how it reads.
Everything else the Moss Point native did was toward that goal.
Epitomizing that singleness of purpose was his passionate pursuit of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, the nation’s signal honorary for liberal arts students. Ole Miss had been rejected for membership years before.
His colleagues scoffed that it could be achieved.
Close campus ally, Dr. Gloria Kellum, said she “told him he was crazy, it was not possible and we would fail.”
Post-graduate work at Yale and three years as president of the NCAA Foundation had taught Khayat a lot about what money can do for an institution.
He set out to build a treasury that would finance the renaissance of his university.
Robert Khayat is not a man anyone can say no to, many deep-pocketed alumni and friends admit.
During prosperious economic times, he went to the well over and over.
* A $30 million gift to supplement liberal arts faculty salaries.
* $100 million for the Barksdale Reading Institute.
* $525.9 million Commitment to Excellence Campaign in 2001.
* $200 million MomentUM Campaign in 2009.
* A university endowment at nearly $500 million.
* Hundreds of other major financial gifts to impact academic offerings and facility renovations.
Khayat also set about uniting faculty, staff and students to work toward common goals to increase enrollment, library holdings, salaries and number of Ph.Ds awarded.
“Our time to establish the preeminence of the university is now,” he said to thundering applause after his 1995 hiring.
“We must be one, regardless of our role, race or gender, our economic status, religious affiliation or political persuasion. We are one people. We value respect for the dignity of the individual. We value honesty and integrity. And we value learning and wisdom.”
It paid off in October 2000 when the gold PBK key was delivered in Philadelphia, Pa.
“It was like winning the national championship,” says Warner Alford, Khayat’s former football teammate.
* * *
Khayat set out to make his skeptics into believers.
“We were ready to take off walking,” recalled Dr. Don Cole, then a leading African-American faculty member and now assistant to the chancellor for multicultural affairs. “But he came in and made us think we could fly.
“Then he commenced to do some things to show us we could soar.”
Making believers was the cultural shift from which everything else came.
Part of that shift was a conscious campaign to change the character of the student body by recruiting more African-Americans.
Khayat knew many of Mississippi’s best and brightest black high school students were choosing in-state rivals or out-of-state schools over Ole Miss.
He went into the state’s public high schools over and over to meet them and sign them up for Oxford. It worked.
During his 14 years, enrollment has increased 43.6 percent and minority enrollment is up 78.5 percent.
The percentage of public school graduates of all races in the Ole Miss student body has also risen significantly in the Khayat years.
The battle against long-held ways cost him, too, in the short-haul.
He backed the head football coach’s call to ban the Rebel flag from the stadium. He excommunicated mascot Colonel Reb.
He got death threats, hate mail and even was stalked for a while.
“Had we not dealt with the Rebel flag,” Khayat said, “we would not have received Phi Beta Kappa, and that is a fact.”
The new Institute for Racial Reconciliation brought other changes to campus that required his backing, even a difficult but heart-felt apology in the fall of 2002 to James Meredith, the school’s first black student.
Meredith’s 1962 entry onto the all-white campus was marked by violence, deaths and a crushing racist image for the university.
But 40 years later, Ole Miss stole the international headlines and airways with its remembrance, Open Doors, to mark the substantive changes across those decades.
During that evening’s ceremony, Khayat and Meredith literally opened the storied Lyceum’s doors and led a procession of 2,000 to the J.D. Williams library. There, Meredith lit a taper, then turned to four students, whose candles he carefully lit. In turn, they passed the flame to others and the candles flickered on through the emotional crowd.
Across the Khayat years, Ole Miss had its first African-American student body presidents, student newspaper editors, homecoming queens and Mr. Ole Miss.
Recruitment goals for black faculty continue, despite its difficulty with national competition.
* * *
Khayat’s final five years were the crescendo in an aria.
* 2004 – Tops in the state in attracting National Merit scholars.
* 2005 – William Faulkner’s home restored and dedicated; Reader’s Digest touts the Honors College among the nation’s top three.
* 2006 – New $53 million University Hospital opens.
* 2007 – Oxford’s Ed and Becky Meek donate $5.3 million for a new School of Journalism.
* 2008 – Ground is broken on new law building.
Facility, research and academic expansions continued at breakneck pace.
Scores of the famous came to campus to benefit students and themselves from the experience. John Grisham, Prince Edward, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Colin Powell, Spike Lee, Justice Antonin Scalia and more.
Actor Morgan Freeman voiced-over campus recruitment advertising.
Khayat acknowledges the pace has been sprint-like for a man, who until recently, walked three miles every morning.
“In the years to follow, I hope I’ll have time to really think about it,” he said of his chancellorship. “There is so much activity that it’s hard to keep it clear in your mind what you’re experiencing.”
In taking a final lap, Khayat wants people to be clear about his motives in good times and bad, thinking of country music icon Willie Nelson.
“When Willie Nelson was asked what he would like on his tombstone, he said, ‘His intentions were good.’
“My intentions were good. I just hope that, if it’s talked about or thought about, which it may not be, that we generally agree that Ole Miss became a better place during these 14 years.”
Shelby County, Tenn., Mayor AC Wharton Jr., a 1971 Ole Miss Law School grad, was among the first black law school faculty. He sees the changes brought about by Khayat’s intentions.
“No one with intellectual honesty can say things have not changed for the better at Ole Miss,” he said.
Former Netscape founder Jim Barksdale of Jackson helped kick off Khayat’s chancellorship with $5.4 million to establish the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, named for his wife.
“No one has done more to enhance its luster,” Barksdale said about Khayat’s impact upon Ole Miss.
Author Grisham, an Ole Miss law alumnus, adds, “It is rare to find one person so perfectly suited for one job. Robert Khayat was meant to be the Ole Miss chancellor, and his charismatic leadership will impact the lives of many students for many years.”
* * *
Jan. 5, the 70-year-old Khayat, once an all-star catcher, lineman and kicker, announced he was hanging up his chancellor cleats by June 30.
Five months before, Forbes.com had ranked Ole Miss in the Top 25 of the nation’s best public universities.
Combined enrollment from all campuses hit a record 17,601.
Rose Flenorl of Memphis became the Ole Miss Alumni Association’s first black president.
And Ole Miss had its 25th Rhodes Scholar.
But no other singular event than the presidential campaign’s first debate – between Barack Obama and John McCain- could have said more to the world about where the University of Mississippi ranks among its peers.
It was the zenith of that 1997 Game Plan of academic, cultural and physical changes. The culmination of what Khayat constantly describes as a team effort.
* The first-class facilities of The Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.
* The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.
* The private fundraising support from alumni and friends.
* The award-winning beauty of the campus.
All from the pursuit of Phi Beta Kappa.
All from pursuit of respect.
All summed up in the words of Robert Conrad Khayat.
“I’ve always believed that this university had not only the responsibility but also the ability to lift the state.
“I guess if I had an overriding objective as chancellor, it was to enhance our self-perception and enhance the way we are perceived by others.
“So I thought if we could set some lofty goals and succeed, then we would feel better about ourselves, and the nation would feel better about us.”
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org.