The preferred candidate to succeed Dr. Dan Jones as University of Mississippi chancellor says he has limited leadership experience at academic medical centers, but that he's committed to ensuring the University of Mississippi Medical Center thrives and prospers.
“This is a huge part of higher education in the state of Mississippi,” Dr. Jeffrey Vitter, provost and executive vice chancellor at the University of Kansas, told students, faculty, staff and alumni Wednesday during sessions in which they were encouraged to ask questions of the Institutions of Higher Learning's choice to lead the University, including its regional campuses in DeSoto, Tupelo, Booneville, Grenada and UMMC in Jackson.
Being UM chancellor is “my dream job,” said Vitter, a New Orleans native who earned his undergraduate degree in math at the University of Notre Dame and his PhD in computer science at Stanford. He also has an MBA from Duke. A faculty member and administrator at Texas A&M, Purdue, Duke and Brown, Vitter's academic field is computer science.
At the University of Kansas, Vitter initiated and co-led the campus-wide development of the university's strategic plan, which included the main campus at Lawrence, a campus in Overland Park and medical center campuses in Kansas City, Wichita and Salina.
“That's probably what I'm best known for: strategic planning,” Vitter told his audiences in the Student Union. It's critical, he said, for universities to build academic excellence through collaboration and shared vision with business, the community, alumni and research leaders.
“The Medical Center is an economic powerhouse, creating mind-boggling innovations on a regular basis,” he said. “I'm a very strong supporter of entrepreneurship, and translating those ideas to have an impact.”
Vitter told the groups that he brings expertise in four core areas: academics, research, business and executive leadership. “As a Southerner, I really want to contribute to make this region the most vibrant place it can be,” he said.
While a faculty member and administrator at Purdue, Vitter said, he had the opportunity to work with the national leader of BlueCross BlueShield in bringing together 24 “top thinkers from the medical field on how you design a health-care system from scratch for the future.
Vitter is interviewed by Mississippi Public Broadcasting's Maura Moed.
“I have great interest in medical education,” he said. “Innovation that comes from medicine is astounding. You're fortunate to have the only children's hospital and the only liver transplant center that attract people to UMMC.”
Members of the UMMC community lined up at microphones during the sessions not just to ask questions, but to say what was on their minds.
“We have very strong leadership here with Dr. Woodward. Have you been informed that we are very independent?” said Dr. Joy Kuebler, associate professor of physical therapy in the School of Health Related Professions.
“There has been incredible change here in the last 10 years,” said Dr. Louis Harkey, professor of neurosurgery. “How are you going to support us in that continued process?”
Vitter pledged to help improve the quality of life for Mississippians through advancing the quality of health care and research. “It's especially important for a chancellor to champion academic excellence and scholarship,” he said.
“I want to be a transformative chancellor to lead this great university to the next level of excellence.”
Vitter's presentation “was very informative, and the faculty, staff and students were very engaged,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the UM School of Medicine. “He was very confident in answering questions, showed a passion for education, and a commitment to excellence. I am impressed by his academic credentials, and I look forward to a positive future.”