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5/9/2012 - Jackson, Miss.

Unprecedented growth. More than 500 major building and renovation projects. More than 100 new program offerings. These are a few of the accomplishments of the university system during the past 12 years. The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning has played an integral role in creating and directing the growth of the university system.

Four Trustees, including Dr. Stacy Davidson of Cleveland, Dr. Bettye Neely of Grenada, Scott Ross of West Point, and Amy Whitten of Oxford, recently completed their 12-year terms of service on the Board. Their contributions have had an immeasurable impact on the students, the system and the state.

“These four trustees have been exceptional members of the Board,” said Ed Blakeslee of Gulfport, president of the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning. “They have served with a steadfast dedication and put great thought and careful deliberation into each decision made.”

Enrollment at Mississippi’s eight public universities has increased dramatically during their time on the Board. Twelve years ago, there were slightly more than 76,000 students enrolled in the university system. Today, there are more than 94,000 students enrolled, an increase of more than 20 percent.

“It has been a great honor to serve on the Board of Trustees,” said Dr. Stacy Davidson. “I am very proud of our enrollment increase. This is a great indication of the reputation that our educational system has both inside the state and beyond.”

Dr. Davidson holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Mississippi and earned a doctor of medicine degree from the University of Mississippi School of Medicine. An ophthalmologist, Dr. Davidson has practiced medicine since 1960. He is married to the former Fay Spruill and they have two sons and four grandchildren.

Managing such growth presents its own set of challenges. The Board has worked alongside the universities to address these challenges, which include building and maintaining facilities to meet the needs of students and faculty. The Board has approved more than 500 major building and renovation projects during the past 12 years, representing an investment of $2.4 billion. The quality of the facilities attracts students and faculty to campus and plays an important role in research and economic development.

“It has been the highest honor of my life to have served on the Board,” said Trustee Scott Ross. “I am particularly proud of the improvements we've made in the facilities on each of the campuses, and the process we've put in place to ensure that all buildings enhance the aesthetics both now and in the future.”

Trustee Ross received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Mississippi State University and a law degree from the University of Mississippi. A practicing attorney, Ross serves as the mayor of West Point. He and his wife, Donna, have two children.

Program offerings have also expanded to meet the needs of students as well as business and industry in Mississippi. During the past 12 years, the Board has approved more than 100 new undergraduate and graduate programs. Ranging from Music Industry Studies on the undergraduate level to Earth and Atmospheric Sciences on the graduate level, these programs have offered students new opportunities to fulfill their dreams and have offered employers the opportunity to build and expand successful businesses in our state.

“It has been an honor to serve on the Board,” said Dr. Bettye Neely. “One of the accomplishments that I am most proud of is the settlement of the Ayers Case in 2001. All institutions benefitted as a result of the settlement. Alcorn State University, Jackson State University and Mississippi Valley State University all received resources necessary to build new facilities and an endowment was created for all three institutions. Summer developmental programs were developed at all universities for the students that needed that assistance. All of us working together made this possible.”

Dr. Bettye Neely holds a bachelor’s degree from Mississippi Valley State University, a master’s degree from Jackson State University, a specialist degree from Delta State University, and a doctorate from Mississippi State University. She serves as the Assistant Superintendent of District Testing and Federal Programs in the Grenada School District. She and her husband, Calvin, have one daughter, Shundreia, who is also an educator.

The universities have awarded more than 168,000 undergraduate and graduate degrees during the past 12 years. This translates to an improved quality of life for the individuals attaining the degrees as well as for Mississippi as a whole.

Universities cannot achieve these results without exceptional leaders at the helm. The Board of Trustees is charged with identifying the leaders best suited to lead each university. During the past 12 years, Trustees have appointed 14 outstanding men and women as the Institutional Executive Officers of the universities and have also appointed three Commissioners of Higher Education. Together, they have advanced the university system and the state.

“Nothing is more important that the selection of the people to whom to entrust the fate of 70,000 students,” said Trustee Amy Whitten. “We selected dynamic, revolutionary, face-changing kind of leadership, both at the Commissioner and university leader level. My mother had a favorite saying, ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’ The past 12 years have given me a very meaningful opportunity to make a life.”

Trustee Amy Whitten received a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from the University of Mississippi. Currently a practicing attorney, she is also the founder of The Whitten Group, a consulting and development firm that targets organizational excellence in both the public and private sectors. The Whitten Group maintains offices in Jackson and Oxford.

All appointed to the Board of Trustees by Governor Ronnie Musgrove, Dr. Davidson, Dr. Neely, Ross and Whitten completed their term of service on May 7.

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The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning governs the public universities in Mississippi, including Alcorn State University; Delta State University; Jackson State University; Mississippi State University including the Mississippi State University Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine; Mississippi University for Women; Mississippi Valley State University; the University of Mississippi including the University of Mississippi Medical Center; and the University of Southern Mississippi.

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