President Saunders stepping down at USM ‘for personal reasons’

HATTIESBURG — Dr. Martha Saunders, president of the University of Southern Mississippi, is stepping down from that position effective June 30. She will return to the classroom as a member of the faculty at Southern Miss Gulf Coast this fall.

“After five of the most professionally enriching years of my career, I have decided to step down as president of the University of Southern Mississippi for personal reasons,” Saunders said. “It has been an honor to serve with you as we, together, have moved our beloved university forward to record enrollments, increased private giving and exciting new building projects. I believe I am leaving Southern Miss better than I found it and look forward to being a part of its future as a member of the faculty.”

The Southern Miss alumna became president in May 2007.

Saunders made her announcement at a press conference this morning at the Aubrey K. Lucas Administration Building on the University’s Hattiesburg campus. Joining her were members of the University’s Executive Cabinet, as well as Ed Blakeslee, president of the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL Board), and Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Hank Bounds.

“The Board appreciates the years of service and dedication to the University that Dr. Saunders has demonstrated,” Blakeslee said. “The University has grown under her leadership, marking important milestones, such as the Centennial Celebration, and setting the stage for the future through an inclusive strategic planning process.”

Bounds also applauded Saunders’ work over the previous five years.

“I have enjoyed working with Dr. Saunders to help move The University of Southern Mississippi forward,” said Bounds. “She has fostered a climate of academic success while enhancing the national image of the University and expanding its national research presence.”

She previously held the position of dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of West Florida (UWF), where she earned the rank of tenured professor of communication. At UWF, she also worked as director of the University Honors Program.

A native of Hattiesburg, Saunders earned her B.A. in French from Southern Miss; 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.

The IHL Board of Trustees will begin the search process “as soon as possible,” according to a USM press release The Board will discuss the timeline for the search at its May meeting.

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