OXFORD — The furor over the way the University of Mississippi’s new chancellor was hired could ignite renewed efforts to take away some of the power the Institutions of Higher Learning Board has over Mississippi’s eight public universities.
But it’s easier to contemplate than consummate.
The IHL is enshrined in the state constitution, and it would take a constitutional amendment to effect any meaningful change, such as authorizing each state university to have its own board to hire chief executives.
Such a change was proposed in the Legislature in 2015 in the wake of another Ole Miss controversy, but it never got past lip service.
Perhaps the effort will be revised in the wake of the recent chancellor hiring fiasco. Don’t be surprised if someone doesn’t propose it in the next legislative session. Don’t be surprised either if it turns out like the previous effort..
Dr. Glenn Boyce may be just the person Ole Miss needs as its new leader, but, to put it mildly, he has his work cut out for him. He’s off to a rocky start at the helm of what Ole Miss people like to call “Mississippi’s flagship university.”
The formal announcement of his hiring was cancelled after protesters, including students, disrupted the event.
At the following Saturday’s football game, a venue where celebrities and others who have achieved some honor associated with the university are recognized on the field during timeouts or at least with an announcement over the public address system, no mention was made of the new chancellor.
That decision was a no-brainer. The boos would have made it embarrassing.
Last week, the Ole Miss faculty senate, which rejected a proposal for a no-confidence vote, nevertheless called on the IHL trustees to make “a complete accounting” of how they selected Boyce.
Three days later, the executive officers of the Associated Student Body at Ole Miss issued a statement calling on IHL to create new rules that will ensure “students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other stakeholders participate in decisions that directly affect their respective institutions.”
Ironically, that’s what it appeared the IHL trustees were going to do until a few days before Boyce was appointed.
There is no shortage of opinions and factions within the Ole Miss community, and despite the protests, Boyce is not without supporters.
There is a sizable segment that is hoping he will rein in what they consider too much liberalism and political correctness on campus, including moving a Confederate statue, forbidding the band to play Dixie and changing the mascot.
It’s doubtful, though, that he will undo what’s already been done.
There is another segment of Boyce supporters who think he is highly capable, based on his experience as an outstanding community college president and later as the top IHL executive. They say he knows how to relate to students as well as Mississippi politics.
But even those who think Boyce was the right choice are having a hard time defending the backdoor way in which he was hired.
Had the IHL board simply picked Boyce and announced it without all the buildup about a search committee, listening sessions and such, it would have been controversial enough. But for the trustees to announce they were going to do it one way and then jettison the process and do it another way puts the board in a bad light.
It smacks of behind-the-scenes political maneuvering by a board that historically has shrouded itself in secrecy.
The Clarion Ledger newspaper recently editorialized: “Perhaps it is time for the Legislature to take a long look at how IHL operates. While a centralized college board has many advantages, clearly ours is broken and has been for some time.”
A similar controversy was raised in 2015 after Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones was ousted by the IHL board in a controversial move that led to the hiring of Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter, who was fired after only three years.
State Sen. Gray Tollison, a Republican from Oxford, introduced a legislative measure calling for a constitutional amendment taking away some of IHL’s powers and granting them to separate boards of trustees for each university.
Tollison’s proposal was deemed by legislative leaders to be too late for action that year, and it has gone nowhere since. But the idea could be reignited in light of recent events.
• Charles M. Dunagin is the retired editor and publisher of the Enterprise-Journal in McComb. He lives in Oxford.