Ford Dye, the Mississippi College Board member who chaired the search for a chancellor at the University of Mississippi, said last week that the board rushed to name Glenn Boyce as its choice so Boyce could get to work quickly “to unify the Ole Miss family.”
Talk about miscalculations.
The selection of Boyce was so unifying that it spurred a protest of students Friday that caused cancellation of the ceremony at which Boyce was supposed to be formally introduced as the new head of the state’s flagship university.
The students’ protests aside, Boyce may be just what Ole Miss needs. He is an alumnus of the school and has worked as an administrator at the public school, community college and senior college level, including serving three years as the commissioner of higher education, overseeing all eight of the state’s public universities. He had a reputation, while serving as president of Holmes Community College for almost a decade, as being student-centered.
But his selection also comes with suspicions — in large part because he was a paid consultant early in the search process and publicly said he was not a candidate for the job. This may not be how it went down, but it’s hard to blame anyone on the outside from thinking that Boyce was not an impartial participant when he was supposedly getting feedback from students, faculty and alumni on what they wanted to see in the next chancellor and checking out some possible candidates.
The dissatisfaction about the selection of Boyce would have been less, and perhaps totally avoided, if the College Board had not conducted the process in secret, as it has done with presidential searches since 2006.
As we have written multiple times over the years, whatever benefit comes from confidential presidential searches is outweighed by the negatives of leaving the public in the dark about how the College Board settled on its ultimate choice and not disclosing whoever else might have been in the running.
Had Mississippi conducted its search the way it used to and the way many states still do, it would have announced Boyce as one of its three or so finalists. The College Board would have been forced to explain how his role in the search process, for which he was paid around $87,000, did not create a conflict of interest. And Boyce would have been afforded the chance — while meeting face-to-face with campus groups — to show that he could be this unifying figure his bosses believe he will be BEFORE he was offered the job.
Instead, Boyce is going to start with a cloud of distrust hanging over him, with a sizable faction feeling it had no input in his hire and with many feeling the whole search process was just for show.
Ironically, Boyce could have done something to avoid his current predicament had he advocated, while serving as higher education commissioner, that the College Board return to a more open presidential search process.
There is no evidence that closed searches have produced better selections. The closed searches, though, have produced plenty of evidence of distrust and disappointment in those selections. The Ole Miss fiasco should dictate that the secrecy has got to stop.