Redefining Ole Miss for post-Khayat era

Published 4:34 pm Monday, June 8, 2009

After more than a decade of defining itself in relation to its charismatic leader, the University of Mississippi will soon be stepping into a new, unknown phase of its history — life after Robert Khayat.

That’s a reality Dr. Dan Jones says he’s sensitive to, as he prepares to step in this summer as Khayat’s all-but-official successor.

“We’ve identified ourselves so strongly with him for so long, it’s going to take time to redefine who we are and what our next strategies should be,” Jones said. “I’ll be encouraging us to have those discussions while we’re still strong and vibrant — to look at what we’ll be in the next five or 10 years.”

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Jones called the retiring chancellor a “great friend and great mentor in my life, and not just professionally.”

Jones has worked closely with Khayat from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, which he’s served as vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine for the past six years.

“I’ve learned some from the things he’s told me, but more from just watching him be himself and demonstrate his remarkable leadership skills,” Jones said.

“I’m humbled to consider the possibility of following in his footsteps, and I’ve been grateful for his friendship and support.”

When it comes to the traits the two men share, Jones said he hoped the university community would find in him a similar measure of integrity, character and a care for people.

“But I’m different from him in many ways,” he said. “He is such a strong, charismatic personality, and most people would likely describe me as a quieter leader.” Jones said he would spend the early days of his leadership on campus simply listening and working toward building consensus.

The 60-year-old comes to the top post at Ole Miss through a less traditional route than Khayat, who moved up through the ranks on campus from a professor in the School of Law.

Jones has been with UMC since 1992 as a member of the medical school faculty. In recent years, he’s been active on the national level in health care policy and leadership, serving as president of the American Heart Association from 2007-08.

His career path has not been a planned one, Jones said.

“Almost all of those things have been a surprise to me in my life,” he said. “I’ve been given a lot of opportunities, and I have enjoyed each and every step along the way.”

His willingness to be considered as the next Ole Miss chancellor was also not something he had planned, Jones said.

“Over the last year or two, people approached me about the possibility — when and if Chancellor Khayat retired — of offering myself for service,” he said. “I’m pleased to have had that kind of support, and, of course, humbled to be considered.”

Before joining UMC, Jones along with his wife and two children spent seven years in Korea, where he served as a medical missionary. Today, they live in Hazlehurst.

Jones was born in Morton and raised in Vicksburg. He graduated from Mississippi College in 1971 and earned his medical degree at UMC, where he also completed residency training. He went into private practice in Laurel in 1978.

For most of his career, his patient care, teaching and research activities have focused on hypertension and the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

He was the first principal investigator for UMC’s participation in the landmark Jackson Heart Study, a National Institutes of Health-sponsored population study that focused on cardiovascular disease in African Americans.

For Ole Miss, his vision extends far beyond the campus borders, considering ways the university can help address statewide challenges in areas like education, health care and economics.

“As we become stronger, we have a larger opportunity and responsibility to work with the entire state to move Mississippi forward,” he said.

Jones is scheduled to be on campus June 15 for a full day of open interviews with students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members.

The College Board will make its final decision on Jones’ appointment after receiving this last round of feedback.