Thames Takes Over As USM President - - The News for South Mississippi

Thames Takes Over As USM President

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - Shelby Thames began his presidency at the University of Southern Mississippi on Wednesday by meeting briefly with outgoing president Aubrey Lucas before attacking a busy schedule.

Lucas handed Thames the key to the presidential office suite. Thames later met with Jim Williams, vice president for USM Gulf Coast.

Thames tenure as the eighth USM president begins when funding for the state's eight universities has been slashed by $100 million since 2000. In addition to that, there is an almost certain increase in tuition this year and USM faculty members are leaving in droves.

Despite the challenges, Thames says his mission is to raise USM's academic standings and funding.

"Southern Miss has been a part of my life for many, many years,'' Thames told an assemblage of reporters and well-wishers at the Lucas Administration Building. "What I want to do is work with the faculty, staff and student body to make sure we continue to provide a quality education for our students.''

Already in his corner is Lucas, who will make Thames the second person he cedes the presidency to during his tenure at USM. The first person was Horace Fleming, who took over the presidency from Lucas in 1996.

Thames said he will start building his administrative team and probably will make some decisions within "the next three to four weeks.''

"We have very competent people on campus and we'll be taking a look at that,'' he said. "I have not made any decisions. We have some people we need to talk to and we shall do that.''

Thames, 65, a Hattiesburg native, has served as a professor, department chair, dean and vice president during 37 years of service to USM. His research in polymer science, which deals with plastics and coatings, has generated more than $50 million in external funding for the university since he joined the faculty in 1964.

He founded the Polymer Science Department, now the School of Polymers and High Performance Materials.

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