July 23, 2010 9:42:00 AM
If there were any doubts about Allegra Brigham''s vision or desire to lead Mississippi University for Women from the doldrums in which the school has been mired, they disappeared Thursday afternoon.
Speaking to the local chapter of the alumni association disenfranchised by her predecessor, Brigham was eloquent, direct and at times funny. On top of that, she showed courage and humility, traits too seldom exhibited by past leaders of the school and all too rare in public life. And she didn''t mince words.
"The damage done over the past few years during the previous administration was more devastating than we can comprehend," Brigham told the gathering of alumni, administrators and townspeople. "It damaged the credibility and reputation of the school. Many in this room didn''t give when they could. At a time we needed to elevate our support, it was diminishing."
We must let go of the past and work toward reconciliation, she told the group.
Brigham, in her first month as interim president of her alma mater, said she''s going to keep a bell handy to ring when someone brings up the past.
"I cannot change what happened; you cannot change what happened. It is the past," she said.
In a move breathtaking for its audacity, Brigham apologized for the actions of the previous administration.
"I''d like to publicly apologize to all stockholders on behalf of MUW for what has occurred," she said to the crowded room.
Brigham apologized directly to Lillian Wade, president of the disenfranchised alumni association and Mitzi Green, president of the "official" alumni association.
If The W is to flourish, those two organizations must find a way to bury past differences and come together.
"There are leaders in this town who say this cat fight needs to end," Brigham said. "It''s very uncomfortable to be the only woman in a board meeting and hear that."
Brigham cited conversations she had with four students, all of whom told her their most important concern was reunification of the alumni.
"We can''t get their friends to come here," she said they told her.
The interim president acknowledged that everyone in the room was united by their love for the university. Noting an expected 25 percent decline in funding between 2009 and 2012, she urged those in attendance "to love like an action verb, not as a noun."
"I don''t want us to just survive, I want to thrive," Brigham said. "We must rock."
We, too, want The W to rock. For more than 125 years, the school has been the bedrock of this community. Never has it been more vital to the economic health and quality of life of Lowndes County.
With Brigham, The W has an opportunity to begin reclaiming -- if not surpassing -- its past glories. For that to happen, the stakeholders -- faculty, staff, students, alumni, townspeople and public officials -- must recognize this and join with this determined woman in doing just that.