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Dr. Paul will begin serving in this position on July 16th. 

Earlier this year, Southern Miss President Rodney Bennett announced his plans to step down from the university before the end of his contract.

According to the Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL), the Board of Trustees of State IHL approved a transition plan for the University of Southern Mississippi at the meeting held earlier this month in Jackson.

The transition plan includes Dr. Bennett continuing to serve as president of Southern Miss through July 15, 2022. Beginning July 16, Dr. Joseph “Joe” Paul will begin serving as Interim President of USM.

“I am honored to serve my alma mater as the IHL Board of Trustees completes its search for The University of Southern Mississippi’s next permanent leader,” said Dr. Paul. “I am eager to lead Southern Miss as we chase bold dreams, and I will be happy to return to chasing our grandsons once our next leader is on board. I am fully confident the IHL Board of Trustees will identify a dynamic leader as our 11th Southern Miss President. Our role is to ready the ship, so that the next president finds an institution in good order, energized, and poised for this pivotal transition. I will pursue those ends with full vigor.”

“I encourage all of our constituencies to join me in thanking President Rodney D. Bennett for his leadership at Southern Miss,” Dr. Paul added.

Dr. Paul holds a Ph.D. in administration of higher education from the University of Alabama and was named the University’s Most Outstanding Doctoral Student in the field in 1985. Paul earned a bachelor’s degree in communication and political science from USM in 1975, graduating magna cum laude from the University Honors College, and received a master’s degree in communication and management from Southern Miss in 1978.

He was inducted into the University of Southern Mississippi Alumni Hall of Fame in 2000.

Dr. Paul served for 40 years as a University of Southern Mississippi student affairs administrator. Before becoming vice president for student affairs in February 1993, he held a variety of positions, including assistant director of student activities, assistant vice president and dean of student development.

He also held faculty rank in USM’s College of Education and Psychology.

Since Dr. Paul’s retirement from USM in 2015, he has held part time positions with the USM Foundation as a fundraiser (2015-2016) and Citizen Service Coordinator for the City of Hattiesburg (2017-2020), and Executive Coach for the Horne Business Advisor Group (2016-2020).

Paul currently consults as an executive coach and strategic advisor for the Blue Hen Consulting Agency.

Trustee Tom Duff, President of the Board of Trustees, said Dr. Paul’s vast experience through a lifetime of service to the institution makes him the perfect choice to lead the university during this transition period.

“I appreciate him stepping up to the plate when asked and know that the university will be in steady hands with him at the helm. As decades of alumni can attest, he has great affection for the university and tremendous concern for its students,” Trustee Duff said.

“I am certain the progress at Southern Miss will continue unabated under Dr. Paul’s leadership. His dedication to the institution has been demonstrated through more than four decades of service and there is no doubt that he is passionate about students and the University. I look forward to him bringing his experience and skills to bear for the betterment of the institution,” Dr. Alfred Rankins, Jr., IHL Commissioner of Higher Education, said in a message.

The Commissioner of Higher Education said the details on the search for a permanent president will be released later.

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