USM president resigns; Will teach at USM Gulf Coast

HATTIESBURG, MS (WLOX) - University of Southern Mississippi President Martha Saunders is stepping down from the post she has held since 2007, and returning to the classroom.

In accepting her resignation Friday, the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning said Saunders will become part of the faculty on the Gulf Coast Campus of the University of Southern Mississippi.

"After five of the most professionally enriching years of my career, I have decided to step down as president of The University of Southern Mississippi for personal reasons," Saunders said. "It has been an honor to serve with you as we, together, have moved our beloved university forward to record enrollments, increased private giving and exciting new building projects. I believe I am leaving Southern Miss better than I found it and look forward to being a part of its future as a member of the faculty."

Dr. Saunders cited personal reasons for her decision to return to teaching.  Her resignation will be effective June 30, 2012.

The Board of Trustees will begin the search process as soon as possible. And Saunders has promised to assist with the transition process.

"The Board appreciates the years of service and dedication to the university that Dr. Saunders has demonstrated," said Board President Ed Blakeslee. "The university has grown under her leadership, marking important milestones, such as the Centennial Celebration, and setting the stage for the future through an inclusive strategic planning process."

"I have enjoyed working with Dr. Saunders to help move the University of Southern Mississippi forward," said Dr. Hank M. Bounds, Commissioner of Higher Education. "She has fostered a climate of academic success while enhancing the national image of the university and expanding its national research presence."

Saunders is a USM graduate and the university's first female president.  She came to the USM from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, succeeding Shelby Thames.

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