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First African-American president of Southern Miss to step down

USM President Dr. Rodney Bennett.
USM President Dr. Rodney Bennett.
Published: Jan. 21, 2022 at 6:43 PM CST
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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WLBT) - University of Southern Mississippi President Rodney Bennett says he will step down at the end of his contract.

Bennett, the first African-American president of Southern Miss, as well as the first African-American president of any predominately white university in the state, made the announcement Friday.

“My intention is to begin exploring other professional opportunities later this spring, and I wanted to be transparent with each of you about my plans for the future,” Bennett wrote in a letter to USM faculty, staff and students.

Bennett joined the university in 2013, according to his letter, and early on had to deal with a crisis, when an EF-4 tornado ripped across the campus.

During his time, Bennett said the school has maintained its regional accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, as well as program-specific accreditations. It also has invested in student life, achieved milestones in private fundraising, and has completed a “wide range of construction projects to maximize the role facilities play in student growth and development, faculty pedagogy and research.”

Southern Miss announced its plans to move to a new athletic conference, the Sun Belt Conference.

“I am excited for what lies ahead for me and for my family, but this transition will certainly be bittersweet, as we all love our home here in Hattiesburg - as well as our Greater Pine Belt and Mississippi Gulf Coast communities.”

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