OXFORD • Before Glenn Boyce was ever named the University of Mississippi’s next chancellor, his actions and words permeated the campus during his tenure as commissioner of higher education for the state of Mississippi.
Exclusive records obtained by the Daily Journal through a public records request provide a deeper look into Boyce’s views and response to the search for former Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter and how he viewed the university’s contextualization efforts with Confederate symbols.
Boyce’s correspondence with the former chancellor offers a glimpse into how he might view issues affecting the university today.
In 2015, then-interim Chancellor Morris Stocks ordered the Mississippi state flag that bears the Confederate battle emblem be removed from campus after many campus groups asked the university administration to do so.
After Stocks’ decision to remove the flag from campus, Vitter created a panel of university leaders on March 29, 2016, that made up the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context, where the committee would make recommendations to Vitter on the best approach to contextualize the university’s history with Confederate symbols and iconography.
Five months later on Aug. 24 2016, Vitter sent an email to Boyce detailing language the committee intended to use on the different contextualization plaques, where Vitter said he was not interested in changing the term Rebels or Ole Miss.
“I can assure you that we will continue to use terms Ole Miss and Rebels as endearing nicknames for the university,” Vitter wrote. “Data show that the term Ole Miss is broadly viewed as one of connection and affection, with strongly positive national (and international) recognition. It is one of the more known and respected (and frankly, envied) college brands.”
Over a year later, the university was set to unveil six plaques and install them throughout the campus. On Sept. 7, 2017, Boyce told Vitter he approved of the university’s contextualization process and wanted to present a statement to the IHL Board of Trustees to support the campus’ efforts.
“I have reflected deeply on the challenges you face with the statues,” Boyce wrote to Vitter. “I feel strongly that the contextualization process was conducted in an exemplary fashion and should put to rest any further issues inside this discussion, including statues.”
The university is currently in the middle of a student-prompted process to relocate the Confederate statue that stands in the heart of the Ole Miss campus to the Confederate cemetery located by the Tad Smith Coliseum.
Boyce also provided input on how the university should navigate politically charged discussions that had the potential to divide members of the university community.
Records show there had been some discussion between Boyce and Vitter about whether the university should name a new medical building after Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. In an October 2017 email to Vitter and LouAnn Woodward, the vice chancellor for health affairs at the university, Boyce said that it was the “right thing” to name the new UMMC medical building after Bryant.
“I have been reflecting on our recent meeting and have concluded that it is certainly the right thing to name the new medical school building after Governor Bryant,” Boyce wrote. “While I recognize that not every decision a Governor makes will be popular with all constituents, I look at the passion he exhibited toward placing more physicians in the state and the important role this facility would have in providing this need.”
The name of the Phil Bryant Medical Education Building was officially unveiled in March 2018.
Later, an employee at the medical school emailed Vitter saying he was disappointed the university ultimately decided to name the new building after Bryant because of the governor’s stance on certain issues.
But, the issue that Boyce expanded on the most in his emails was in response to Vitter’s hiring in 2016, defending the search process that ultimately selected Vitter as the 17th chancellor of the state’s oldest public university.
On March 6, 2016, Boyce sent a statement to The Daily Mississippian, the student newspaper at the University of Mississippi, explaining the critical role the Campus Search Advisory Committee played in the hiring of Vitter.
“The CSAC members devoted many hours to review the applications carefully and brought forth the best candidates to recommend for interviews,” Boyce wrote. “I can’t stress enough the exceptional leadership that Dr. Alice Clark brought as Chair of the Campus Search Advisory Committee. All of the CSAC members were extremely dedicated to the task and viewed all applications only through the lens of what is best for the university and its future.”
The advisory committee is a group of people chosen by the state college board to help provide input on what type of leader the university should have. During the past chancellor’s search process, advisory committee members received applications and resumes from applicants, where they scored candidates for the job.
According to multiple members of the CSAC, Boyce was never scored by the advisory committee and never directly applied. The same group of people that Boyce defended in 2016, he circumvented three years later, according to multiple people familiar with the situation.
“This process wasn’t transparent and was a sham of a process,” one CSAC member told the Daily Journal under the condition of anonymity. “IHL didn’t respect us enough to give us a stake in the process.”
After Vitter was hired in 2016, Boyce praised the IHL Board of Trustees’ process that “garnered input and participation from as many constituents as possible,” including faculty, staff, students, alumni and the community. He said the search “strengthened (the IHL’s) trust with the University of Mississippi community.”
“Any change in leadership, particularly at the CEO level, brings transitional issues,” Boyce wrote regarding Vitter’s hire. “This is not uncommon in the world of higher education or business.”
Boyce’s comments now read like a foreshadowing of his own tumultuous hire, where the process has overshadowed his credentials and the search itself.
“Throughout the process, as with any search, there were a lot of rumors and misinformation,” Boyce wrote. “Many were concerned about this becoming a political process, rather than an educational search. The selection of Dr. Vitter, with his impeccable academic credentials and outstanding higher education leadership experience demonstrates that this was purely an education search and was not politically motivated in any way.”