LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - Some members of the Gulf Coast Business Council are raising concerns about the vision and direction of USM Gulf Park. On Thursday, they met with Southern Miss President Dr. Rodney Bennett to discuss the recent reorganization of the university and future change in leadership at the Long Beach campus. The group chairman called it a productive meeting.
Crews are converting three houses next to the USM Long Beach campus into a fitness center, a health clinic, and space for the social work program. Dr. Bennett said the new amenities were in response to Gulf Park students who voiced concerns about not having enough services.
"I believe in time, and in a short amount of time, people will embrace the direction that we're moving in, and to know we're as committed to higher quality academic programs from the coast as we have always been," said Dr. Bennett.
On Thursday, Bennett also listened to concerns from the Gulf Coast Business Council. Their first meeting came two months after Dr. Frances Lucas announced her resignation as USM Gulf Park Vice President.
Lucas said her decision was based on the recent management reorganization at the university, in which her title and responsibilities changed. The Business Council told Dr. Bennett the Long Beach campus needs a strong, dynamic leader with a seat at the decision making table in Hattiesburg.
"It's going to be someone with very strong credentials. Dr. Bennett has made that commitment to us. They will have decision making authority for the Gulf Coast campus and they will be a part of his executive committee at the Hattiesburg level, and that's all the things that we wanted," said GCBC Chairman Ron Peresich.
"There will always be a seat at the executive cabinet table from a senior representative from this campus," said Bennett.
Bennett said the search for Lucas' replacement has not started yet. That's why he relies on input and support from groups like the Business Council.
"The campus is not going to grow unless it has some level of autonomy and strong support from Hattiesburg. The potential for the Long Beach campus is enormous. If we handle this right, we could end up with 5,000-10,000 students there in the next eight to ten years," said Peresich.
"We wanted to be sure that the new vice president on the coast was going to have the kind of authority he had to be successful here, and Dr. Bennett gave us that assurance," he added.
"I'm open and I'm transparent in my administration of the university and I think there's evidence to support my openness for multiple individuals and voices at the table," said Bennett.
Bennett said he is working on the final job description for the next Vice President of USM in Long Beach. In the meantime, Dr. Steve Miller from the Hattiesburg campus is overseeing Gulf Park.