February 17, 2018  

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Board of Trustees extends contract for Southern Miss President Saunders

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University President Martha Saunders
Southern Miss President Martha Saunders

The Board of Trustees of the State Institutions of Higher Learning recently voted to offer new four-year contracts to University of Southern Mississippi President Dr. Martha Saunders and Delta State University President Dr. John M. Hilpert, becoming effective as current contracts expire.

“We feel very fortunate to have such dedicated and visionary leaders at these universities,” said Dr. Bettye Neely, president of the Board of Trustees. “We appreciate their leadership and commitment to putting students first, even in the difficult economic times we are facing today.”

Saunders is the ninth president of The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Miss. She took office on May 21, 2007, continuing an illustrious career of higher-education leadership.

“At Southern Miss, I have had the honor of working with some of the finest faculty, staff and students anywhere on the planet," said Saunders.  "There’s a spirit here that’s just indescribable.  We know who we are and where we’re going.  I never, ever take this place for granted.”

As the new university president at Southern Miss, Saunders worked quickly to bring the campus together in a widely inclusive strategic planning process. Under her leadership, the university has identified four overarching areas of strategic emphasis including:

  • a climate for academic success
  • an enhanced national image
  • stronger connections with the community
  • a culture of healthy minds, bodies and campuses.

She and campus officials planned the many celebratory events surrounding the university’s 100th anniversary this year.

A native of Mississippi, Saunders earned her B.A. in French from The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg; her M.A. in journalism from the University of Georgia in Athens; and her Ph.D. in communication theory and research from Florida State University in Tallahassee.

“I am thrilled to hear that Dr. Saunders’ contract as president of the University of Southern Mississippi has been renewed for another four years," said Russ Willis, interim vice president, administrative affairs.  "I believe that Dr. Saunders is the right leader at the right time for the university. She has shown during her time here unwavering dedication and perseverance in furthering the goals of the university. She has set for Southern Miss an ambitious agenda that will take the university to even higher levels of excellence." 

Hilpert has served as president of Delta State University in Cleveland since 2003 and has worked with the campus community toward becoming the Best Regional University in America. Delta State has met enrollment and fund raising goals. Budgets are sound and faculty leaders participate regularly in institutional governance. 

Since 2003, he has served as board president for the Delta Health Alliance and was elected president in 2008 of the Mississippi Association of Colleges and Universities. He also serves as chair of the Commission on Colleges Board of Directors (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools), the regional accrediting body for more than 800 colleges and universities. 

Hilpert’s degrees include a Ph.D. from the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Michigan, an M.Div. from Concordia Seminary in Missouri, and a B.A. from Concordia Senior College in Indiana. He also holds a two-year diploma from St. Paul’s College in Missouri. 

“Both Dr. Hilpert and Dr. Saunders are exceptional leaders,” said Dr. Neely. “The Board of Trustees is very pleased to offer them an additional four years to continue reaching new heights at their respective universities.”