I am a proud alumnus of (I choose to call it) the University of Mississippi. Proud to be the first black kid from my hometown of West Point to be accepted as a freshman. Proud to be the fourth president, ever, of the Black Student Union.
And, proud to have cultivated relationships with Chancellors Porter B. Fortune, Gerald Turner and Robert Khayat, especially Chancellor Khayat, who did more than any other University leader to bring the University into the 20th century and help it become a great public university, achieving the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa key, ushering in a new era of diversity, commissioning a monument to James Meredith’s historic walk through the doors of the Lyceum and presiding over unprecedented growth and fundraising during the University’s Sesquicentennial Campaign.
Admittedly, he was the only candidate interviewed in 1995, a testament to just how remarkable a candidate he was.
For those reasons, I’m not so proud of the University’s most recent hire, Glenn Boyce; nor of the selection process which landed him the job. In short, Boyce was originally a part of the selection process, was never a candidate for the position, and got the job only after a multistep selection process was totally bypassed.
In other words, Glenn Boyce, head of the state’s flagship university, is nothing more than a result of politics in academics.
Which, finally, brings me to the point of this commentary: Before its adjournment due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Mississippi legislature was considering several measures, among them:
• A change in how state college presidents are selected;
• A constitutional change in the way members of the state college board are appointed;
• A change in how the board is constituted, ensuring representation of all eight public universities on the board.
When the Legislature returns to its work, and hopefully, one of the first orders of business should be to bring fairness, equal representation and an apolitical posture to our higher education system.
James, I am also a proud alumnus of the University of Mississippi. And before I answer your point, you noted that the Mississippi legislature has adjourned temporarily due to the coronavirus.
We are living through a time of disease outbreak that is unlike anything we have ever witnessed in our lifetimes. Therefore let us pray for one another and all of our leaders as we work united to get through this difficult time of uncertainty and life and death decisions. May God be merciful and grant our doctors, nurses, scientists, government officials, farmers, truckers, delivery personal, and everyone involved with great protection, discernment and profound wisdom in action.
When you ask for an apolitical posture to our higher education, my first thought goes to a principle that I learned in chemistry. Now, before I attended the University, I spent two years at Northeast Mississippi Community College. Dr. Ray Cozart was my chemistry instructor and he is a genius in chemistry. He prepared his students well for advanced degrees and I learned about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Simply put, it says that the position and the velocity of an object cannot both be measured exactly, at the same time, even in theory. And when it comes to a legislature, an administration, and over a half a billion a year of Mississippi taxpayer’s dollars, then like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, you cannot intertwine those three things without politics, even in theory.
I believe that Chancellor Boyce needs our respect and time, and his actions will determine how well he runs the University of Mississippi. When the legislature does reconvene, I hope that they will look into how to make all our institutions of higher learning function on a new higher level of excellence. The coronavirus is challenging all our institutions, and when we get through this, everyone may see how the experience has enhanced our performances in ways that we could never have imagined just days ago.