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Donna and Jim Barksdale

Jim Barksdale, former president and CEO of Netscape Communications Corp., and his wife, Donna, are giving $12.8 million to the University of Mississippi to support and enrich educational opportunities in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

"The generosity and commitment of the Barksdale family have ensured that the University of Mississippi remains a premier public education institution," said Chancellor Robert Khayat. "This recent gift to the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College will enable us to continue to attract the state’s most high-performing students and provide them with a vibrant center of academic excellence. We are profoundly grateful to Jim and Donna Barksdale for their continued support."

This is Barksdale’s fourth major gift to the SMBHC, which he, along with his late wife, Sally, helped establish in 1997.

"Due to the leadership of Chancellor Khayat and Dean Sullivan-González, the Honors College has become a center for academic excellence within the University of Mississippi, and we are proud to be associated with the fine faculty, staff, students and alumni of the Honors College," Barksdale said. "Through this gift we will expand the range of educational opportunities provided by the Honors College, and hope to convince some of Mississippi’s brightest young minds to call Mississippi their home after graduation."

Administered over a five-year period, the funds are to be used to help the college reach its target enrollment of 1,000 students, expand its course offerings, increase staff and support student field experiences. A defining characteristic of the SMBHC, the field experiences enable honors students to learn and grow personally by traveling and exploring the world.

"I’ve been so stunned; we are very happy and very excited about this," said Douglass Sullivan-González, SMBHC dean. "This generous gift from Jim Barksdale will enable us to continue providing an enriched honors experience, as well as to bring in additional qualified students. We believe there are many more high-achieving students in Mississippi who want to enjoy what we offer."

Part of the funds will also be used to increase the number of Honors College scholarships from 14 to 21. The new scholarships are to be awarded to freshmen entering this fall.

"Being a member of the Honors College has truly been a blessing for me, especially since most of my financial aid is from the scholarship I’ve received through it," said April Smith, a sophomore accounting major from Crenshaw. "The Honors College has given me so many opportunities I would not have otherwise had. The professors are engaging, and I feel challenged every day."

Dustin Markle, an SMBHC graduate and Barksdale Scholarship recipient, agreed.

"Personally, I can trace every positive academic experience I had at Ole Miss to the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College," said Markle, who graduated in 2007 with a degree in biochemistry and is enrolled at the UM Medical Center in Jackson. "From the first day as a freshman to the last day as a senior, I was challenged personally and academically. My experiences with the Honors College had a direct effect on getting me where I am today. The Barksdale Scholarship was a major factor that drew me to the Honors College and Ole Miss. I appreciate the Barksdales’ generosity, which has inspired me to strive to give back one day."

The SMBHC was a key to UM’s successful quest to shelter a chapter of the prestigious honor society Phi Beta Kappa. In 2005, SMBHC was named by Reader’s Digest as one of the three finest honors colleges in the nation.

"Outstanding support from alumni, dedicated administrative staff and superb faculty — this is the recipe for one of the most successful honors colleges in the country," said Sullivan-González.

After earning his bachelor’s degree from UM in 1965, Barksdale held key leadership positions in some of the world’s most successful companies, including FedEx and AT&T Wireless Services. Along with providing funding to create the SMBHC, Barksdale also established a scholarship program at the UM Medical Center and founded the Barksdale Reading Institute and the Mississippi Principal Corps, a program designed to better train the state’s school principals.

The gift is part of the university’s MomentUM campaign, a four-year initiative to raise $200 million. The campaign, which ends in December, already has raised more than $160 million for scholarships, graduate fellowships, faculty support, a basketball practice facility, residential colleges and a new law school on the Oxford campus. Also in the plan is a cancer center at the Medical Center.

For more information about the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, including admission guidelines, call 662-915-7294 or visit



Online gifts for the 2024 calendar year should be made no later than noon on December 31, 2024.  Checks by mail will need to be postmarked by December 31 to be counted in the 2024 calendar year.