Bennett to step down as USM President, Paul to serve as interim in 2 weeks
JACKSON Miss. (WDAM) - In January, Rodney D. Bennett announced his intentions to step down as president of the University of Southern Mississippi at the end of June 2023. The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning decided to drastically shorten that timetable.
Thursday, the College Board announced that a transition plan had been developed that would see Bennett’s final day as July 15, with former USM Administrator Joe S. Paul assuming duties as interim president on July 16.
No reason was given in the IHL news release what prompted the alteration of Bennett’s timetable.
“The Board appreciates Dr. Bennett’s service to The University of Southern Mississippi,” Board of Trustees President Tom Duff said in the release. “He has many successes to his credit...We wish him well as he begins a new chapter in his professional journey.”
Duff said he appreciated Paul stepping back onto the USM stage.
“Dr. Paul’s vast experience through a lifetime of service to the institution makes him the perfect choice to lead the university during this transition period,” Duff said. “I appreciate him stepping up to the plate when asked and know that the university will be in steady hands with him at the helm.
“As decades of alumni can attest, he has great affection for the university and tremendous concern for its students.”
Paul is well-known to the USM family. He served for 40 years as a USM Student Affairs administrator. Before becoming vice president for student affairs in February 1993, he held a variety of positions, including Assistant Director of Student Activities, Assistant Vice President and Dean of Student Development.
He also held faculty rank in USM’s College of Education and Psychology.
Since retiring from the university in 2015, Paul has held part-time positions with the University Foundation as a fundraiser (2015-2016), as citizen service coordinator for the City of Hattiesburg (2017-2020) and as executive coach for the Horne Business Advisor Group (2016-2020). He currently consults as an executive coach and strategic advisor for the Blue Hen Consulting Agency.
“I am honored to serve my alma mater as the IHL Board of Trustees completes its search for The University of Southern Mississippi’s next permanent leader,” said Paul. “I am eager to lead Southern Miss as we chase bold dreams, and I will be happy to return to chasing our grandsons once our next leader is on board.
“I am fully confident the IHL Board of Trustees will identify a dynamic leader as our 11th Southern Miss president. Our role is to ready the ship, so that the next president finds an institution in good order, energized, and poised for this pivotal transition. I will pursue those ends with full vigor.”
Paul and his wife, Meg, reside in Hattiesburg and are active members of Trinity Episcopal Church. They have two grown children and two grandsons.
In addition, the Board appointed the members of the search committee for “The University of Southern Mississippi President Search:”
- Tommy Duff, Co-Chair
- Gee Ogletree, Co-Chair
- Jeanne Luckey
- Dr. Alfred McNair Jr.
- Dr. Steven Cunningham
The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning governs the public universities in Mississippi, including:
- Alcorn State University
- Delta State University
- Jackson State University
- Mississippi State University (MSU Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine)
- Mississippi University for Women
- Mississippi Valley State University
- University of Mississippi (including UM Medical Center)
- University of Southern Mississippi.
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