Faculty, students protest sudden ousting of popular chancellor

Former university leader calls decision politically motivated

Faculty, student leaders, and former administrators at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) are protesting the state board of education's decision to not renew the contract of Chancellor Dan Jones, Inside Higher Ed reports.

On Friday, the board announced its decision to let Jones's contract expire in September but did not provide detailed reasons. Saturday, it released a second statement that alleged Jones failed to implement changes to the university medical center.

In spite of the second statement, many on campus remained shocked by the decision. Jones was known for leading the university to success in enrollment, faculty relations, fundraising, diversity, and athletics.

The state board's explanation

In the statement, Jim Borsig, the commissioner of higher education, pointed to concerns about the medical center's financial stability that "were not corrected to the satisfaction of the Board of Trustees."

Their decision has nothing to do, he says, with "the personal integrity or honesty of Dr. Jones."

Jones's reaction

In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Jones questioned why his disagreements with board members regarding the medical center were reason enough to end his time at Ole Miss. The announcement left him "very surprised," said Jones, adding that he thought they had worked through the issues pertaining to the medical center.

The center is doing well when compared to similar institutions, he says. It will meet or exceed its budget goals this fiscal year and reviews by medical school accreditors—which examine the center's financial status—raised no alarms, he says.

He did, however, acknowledge that the appointment of LouAnn Heath Woodward as the center's next vice chancellor was a major source of tension. The board wanted to run the search process, he says, instead of just confirming or rejecting his recommendation. 

"Statute and policy were clear," Jones said, continuing, "Institutional executives are the ones who hire, and the board has the right to approve or not."

Campus rallies

Now, Jones's supporters are voicing support, circulating petitions to extend his contract, changing Facebook profile pictures to images reading "We Stand With Chancellor Jones," holding emergency faculty meetings, and organizing a campus protest.

The decision to oust Jones is an "evil deed—clearly motivated by personal and/or political reasons and not on performance," wrote Robert Khayat, former Ole Miss chancellor, in the Clarion-Ledger on Sunday.

Faculty and supporters have also been circulating articles about the attempted 2012 removal of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan. The state board reversed its decision following public pressure.

A wider trend

Stressing that he was referring to a national pattern—not his specific situation—Jones told Inside Higher Ed that the oversight of public colleges and universities "appears politicized in some states," specifically pointing to North Carolina state board's decision to close the University of North Carolina's poverty center.

"We all see broadly these social issues becoming more and more divisive, and university leaders who have taken more progressive positions than the political climate in their states, well you can see some reaction to that," he says (Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 3/23).

The takeaway: The sudden ousting of University of Mississippi chancellor has faculty, students, and former institution leaders rallying support to reverse the state board of education's decision.

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