Robert Khayat - The Education of a Lifetime



Join us for this very special ticketed event at the Southeastern Conference headquarters.

In his memoir, The Education of a Lifetime, former University of Mississippi Chancellor Robert Khayat writes about his childhood days in Moss Point, Mississippi, the state’s segregationist policies that prevented his SEC championship baseball team from playing in the College World Series, and the sadness of experiencing his father’s arrest and guilty plea. These seemingly disparate events worked to prepare him to battle the vestiges of racial strife that continued to haunt the university’s culture as he accepted the honor of becoming the university’s 15th chancellor.

In 1996, after a particularly dismal football season, Khayat went to the field house to visit the coaches. The mood was somber. He asked coach Tommy Tuberville why they were so depressed. Tuberville replied, “We can’t recruit against the Confederate flag.” Khayat then ordered an image review from the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller. The results were devastating but clear: among the symbols, songs, mascots and names, the flag was, by far, the most damaging. The university, according to the survey, had no public perception except to be seen as a racist institution.

The image review caught the attention of the New York Times. They ran a full-page story covering Khayat’s attempt to distance the university from the symbols of the Old South. In the ensuing months, he found himself in the cross-hairs of the Ku Klux Klan, the Heritage Defense Committee, and a group that called themselves the Confederate States of America. As Khayat and his team worked to improve the academic standards of the school, renovate a dilapidated campus, and increase faculty salaries, they were overwhelmed by the letters, phone calls, and faxes from those who wanted to maintain the old symbols. And though there were many alumni who supported his efforts, the damning letters — and even death threats
— came from groups and individuals across the nation.

Ultimately, in a stroke of genius, the leadership team at the university found a solution to the flag: they banned sticks from all sporting events. The ban – which included sticks for flags, sticks for umbrellas, and sticks for corndogs — led to a complete shift in the atmosphere at the university’s sporting events. “Given the chance, and with a great team, I believed we could change this culture. Together, I was certain, we could become a great university again.”

Khayat’s story gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at how a university moved from mediocrity to excellence. We relive, along with Khayat, the courting of an eccentric donor, as well as private conversations with a sitting U.S. President, governors, coaches and celebrities. We also see how a man worked to make amends for past mistakes. The Education of a Lifetimeis a funny, touching and insightful memoir. And it is proof that one man — a man dedicated to respecting the dignity of every individual — can make lasting change.

Tickets for the event are $24.95 and include a signed copy of The Education of a Lifetime. Adult beverages will also be served.

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Event date: 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - 5:30pm

Event address: 

2201 Richard Arrington Jr Blvd N
Southeastern Conference Headquarters
35203 Birmingham