OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - The wish list for the next leader of the University of Mississippi is long and sometimes contradictory — a Mississippian, an Ole Miss graduate, someone who respects the university's heritage, someone focused on the future, a political conservative, a respecter of academic freedom, someone able to make women and minorities feel more welcome, someone with deep higher education experience, a business leader.
Those are the desires voiced Thursday in Oxford by students, faculty, staff, alumni and others to College Board trustees in a listening session as part of the chancellor search.
Trustee Ford Dye said Thursday that he and other trustees could choose a new leader by the end of October. Dye said an advisory panel of faculty, staff, students and alumni are screening a list of applicants and will make recommendations to trustees next week.
The board held a listening session earlier at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. It is taking comments online through midnight Friday.
Jeffrey Vitter resigned the chancellor's post after less than three years in the top job, and some campus constituents say morale is terrible, citing declining enrollment, flagging fundraising, and an ailing football team. Also looming over the search is the ongoing struggle over how the university should deal with the symbolism of the Confederacy and white supremacy, including a statue of a Confederate soldier that administrators are trying to relocate to a less prominent location.
"This is a moment where we can get Ole Miss back on track," said alumnus and former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott.
Longtime Dean of Students Sparky Reardon called for a chancellor with the "it factor," someone who could excite people about the university and use his or her connections in the state to recruit students and win legislative support.
The comments showed sharp divides in what people want for the university, although most agreed on a need for unity. Honors College Dean Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez said Ole Miss needs a fundraiser and good communicator, but also someone who respects the university as a place where people "learn how to think critically" and can deal with racial issues.
CSpire CEO Hu Meena told trustees that "over-the-top political correctness at Ole Miss" had damaged the school's brand, although he said he opposed those who cling to the Confederate flag. He called for a focus on academic excellence.
Larry Sparks, who was in charge of finance and administration, is serving as interim chancellor.
Note: This article was modified on Sept. 6 to include more information and a correction from The Associated Press.