Dr. Joe Paul named interim Southern Miss president


Dr. Rodney D. Bennett, current Southern Miss President, says in the following statement his last day as the university's leader will be in mid-July.

Dear Southern Miss Family:

As you know, in January, I shared my intention to begin exploring other professional opportunities in advance of my current contract end date. I have been in discussions with the IHL system’s Commissioner of Higher Education regarding a transition plan as we moved into my final year of service.

It is very important to me that the University is able to begin its leadership transition sooner rather than later, in an effort to preserve the institutional momentum we have worked to sustain over the past decade. As such, my last day serving as President will be July 15, 2022. This will enable the University to move forward with an institutional transition and will allow me the opportunity to focus exclusively on my personal transition.

I continue to be so grateful to each of you for all that you have done to advance The University of Southern Mississippi and public higher education across our state over the past 10 years. I remain confident that our collective work will continue to have a profound impact on the lives of young people throughout the region and beyond, and I could not be more proud of all that we have accomplished, together, during my tenure here.

The University of Southern Mississippi will always hold a special place in my heart – and I will always be excited to hear about all the good things I know are still on the horizon for this institution.

Sincerely,

Rodney D. Bennett

President

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Message from Dr. Alfred Rankins Jr., IHL Commissioner of Higher Education, who confirms Dr. Joe Paul will be Interim President

Thank you for the significant service, generous donations, and continued attention you provide to your alma mater, The University of Southern Mississippi. Many of you have had the opportunity to get to know Dr. Rodney Bennett during his tenure as President of Southern Miss. I hope you will join me in thanking Dr. Bennett for his years of service to the University. He has many accomplishments to his credit from his tenure as president, including the University earning the distinguished R1 designation as a top-tier research University, growth at the Gulf Park Campus and other USM sites along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and the transition to a new athletic conference for the Golden Eagles.

I am pleased to announce the Board of Trustees has selected Dr. Joseph S. Paul to serve as Interim President of The University of Southern Mississippi, beginning July 16. For the vast majority of Southern Miss faculty, staff, and alumni, Dr. Paul needs no introduction. He served for 40 years as a University of Southern Mississippi 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 his retirement from the University in 2015, he has held part time positions with The USM Foundation as a fund raiser (2015-2016), as Citizen Service Coordinator for the City of Hattiesburg (2017-2020), as an Executive Coach for the Horne Business Advisor Group (2016-2020), and currently consults as an executive coach and strategic advisor for the Blue Hen Consulting Agency.

Paul holds a Ph.D. in administration of higher education from the University of Alabama and was named the University’s Most Outstanding Doctoral Student in the field in 1985. The Bay St. Louis native earned a bachelor’s degree in communication and political science from USM in 1975, graduating magna cum laude from the University Honors College, and received a master’s degree in communication and management from Southern Miss in 1978. He was inducted into the University of Southern Mississippi Alumni Hall of Fame in 2000.

I am certain the progress at Southern Miss will continue unabated under Dr. Paul’s leadership. His dedication to the institution has been demonstrated through more than four decades of service and there is no doubt that he is passionate about students and the University. I look forward to him bringing his experience and skills to bear for the betterment of the institution.

The details on the search for a permanent president will be released later.

Dr. Alfred Rankins, Jr.

Commissioner of Higher Education

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