By Chris Kieffer
Jim Borsig decided he could not leave a job he loved.
Citing a calling he felt as president of Mississippi University for Women, Borsig announced Thursday he has decided to remain in that role, declining an opportunity to be the state’s commissioner of higher education.
Borsig had been serving as commissioner-elect since February, when the 12-member Board of Trustees of the State Institutions of Higher Learning selected him to replace Hank Bounds, who became president of the University of Nebraska system. Borsig was to officially take over in six days.
Instead, he announced during a Thursday morning university convocation that he had decided to remain president of MUW.
“These kind of decisions are not made suddenly,” he said in a phone interview on Thursday. “I’ve spent quite a bit of time in prayer and reflection.
“As old-fashioned as it may sound, I came to the conclusion I was called to be here to do this job. Both jobs are important. I support the board, and I support the system. At this point in my life and in my career, I see lives transformed every day on this campus, and it is a passion.”
Borsig’s brief time as commissioner-elect was a tumultuous one, as it came during the Board’s controversial decision to not renew the contract of University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones.
Although the Board’s decision was based on events that predated Borsig, the commissioner-elect found himself in the center of it and was the person who made public statements for the IHL. Borsig then engaged with Jones in subsequent discussions about a possible extension, but the two sides were not able to reach an agreement.
Borsig said on Thursday that those events “absolutely did not” influence his decision to decline the commissioner position.
“Anyone who knows me and has followed my career for 35 years knows I’ve dealt with hard things and have been in the middle of controversy,” he said. “That had no impact on this decision. I understand there could be someone who may see this as part of that narrative, but that had no relation.”
The ensuing outcry has led to discussions about possibly changing the way the state’s higher education system is governed, perhaps moving away from a single board that oversees all eight public universities. Any changes also could alter the commissioner’s role.
However, Borsig said, the thought of possible changes to that role “never crossed my mind” in making the decision.
IHL Board President Aubrey Patterson of Tupelo said Borsig approached the decision in “a very thoughtful way.”
“We’ve had conversations over several days,” Patterson said. “It didn’t catch me by surprise.”
Patterson also said he did not believe the current events led to Borsig’s decision.
“It has been an intense period of time,” Patterson said. “He obviously has been at the center of a lot of activity and a lot of stress, but I don’t think that had anything to do with his determination that the W was where he could have his highest and best use for the state. He has a passion for the work, and he reflected on that and came to that heartfelt conclusion, and I’m very respectful of that.”
The Board will discuss details for its search for a new commissioner of higher education at its next regularly scheduled meeting on April 16. Borsig has offered to continue serving as an interim commissioner during the transition period. That means he also may be assisting with the search for a new chancellor at the University of Mississippi.
“Obviously we will need his support and hands-on assistance,” Patterson said.
The Board will decide whether to have a full, national search or an abbreviated one for the new commissioner, Patterson said. It had unanimously selected Borsig without going through a search, impressed by his work both as MUW president and as IHL associate commissioner before that.
“We are pleased for MUW,” Patterson said. “They will continue to have the benefit of his leadership. I can assure you people at the W are celebrating today.
“We certainly felt he was the obvious choice to provide leadership at the system level in the role of commissioner. When we made the decision, it was a unanimous decision, and we all felt he was the right person for the job at the time. Since he is not going to be permanently in that job, we are disappointed.”
Borsig was named the 2,700-student university’s 14th president on Nov. 30, 2011.
MUW is unique among the state’s eight public universities, the Jackson native said, citing its 14-to-1 faculty-to-student ratio, the commitment of its faculty and staff and its mission to improve access and affordability.
“We teach a lot of first-generation college students,” he said. “Continuously trying to perfect how we do that is a daily effort on our campus.
“There is a lot of good work still to do.”
During Thursday’s convocation on the Columbus campus, he thanked faculty, staff and students for their “unwavering dedication.”
“I am in love with the W and with its future,” he said. “I look forward to being a continued part of this university’s rich potential.”