College Board names Thames new USM president
April 14, 2002
HATTIESBURG Shelby Thames, the architect of the University of Southern Mississippi's renowned polymer science program, was named the college's eighth president Saturday.
The state College Board made the announcement after meeting for five hours on the USM campus in Hattiesburg.
Thames, 65, a distinguished USM research professor, will assume the presidency May 1 at a salary of $200,000, which is a combination of state and foundation funding.
The other candidates were Ann Weaver Hart, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Claremont Graduate University in California, and Terry Hickey, University of Akron Provost.
We will achieve our goal to become the finest university in America at what we do,'' said Thames, who declined to take questions from reporters until a news conference Monday in Hattiesburg.
In a statement released by the College Board, Thames said he would work to build on the high quality academic programs that have made USM a student-centered institution.
The vote was 11-1 in favor of Thames' appointment, with board member Virginia Shanteau Newton of Gulfport casting the dissenting vote.
Some faculty members complained that Thames is autocratic and hard to work with. Still, Thames received strong support from alumni who like his business acumen.
Under Thames, USM's polymer science program has become known nationwide for its innovation and ability to generate money for the university. He began the program in 1970. The university's Polymer Research Center is named for Thames.
Thames has been cited for a strong work ethic, but his critics questioned his human and public relations skills.
Asked about Thames' detractors, College Board president Bill Crawford said it is not unusual on any college campus for factions to have strong feelings about who they want as president.
These are folks who care about the institution. We paid attention to that,'' Crawford said. When we weighed through all of that we came to the conclusion he was the best choice. His love, passion and commitment is what this institution needs right now.''
Crawford said Thames can start immediately to work.
Dr. Thames has proven he can get a lot done successfully with limited resources,'' he said.
Higher Education Commissioner Tom Layzell also said Thames' commitment to USM was factor in his selection.
His knowledge of the institution, his love and commitment to the school are going to be very important qualities to do this job,'' Layzell said. Clearly a big factor in his favor is that he knows the school and can hit the ground running.''
Thames earned his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Tennessee and masters and bachelor degrees in chemistry from USM.
Thames has been on the faculty at USM for 37 years, beginning with a job as an assistant chemistry professor. He started the polymer science department in 1970 and continued to teach while serving as science and technology dean and in two vice presidents posts from 1971 to 1986.
The USM community was divided last summer when the College Board offered then-president Horace Fleming Jr. a one-year contract instead of the expected four-year renewal. Fleming rejected the one-year offer.
Aubrey Lucas, who retired in December 1996 after 22 years as president, has been serving as interim president since August.
USM, founded in 1910, has 13,481 students in Hattiesburg and 1,752 in Long Beach.