College board missed the mark

By TIM KALICH,

Mississippi’s College Board wants us to believe that it had to plead, cajole and beg Dr. Glenn Boyce to come out of retirement and accept the chancellorship at the University of Mississippi.

In response to withering criticism over the surprise selection of Boyce, who claimed not to be a candidate and was a paid insider in the search process early on, the Institutions of Higher Learning staff released a timeline this week of how supposedly everything went down.

  It claims Boyce was approached by the College Board or the outside search firm it hired not once, not twice but three times to put his name in the hat for a job that will pay him $800,000 a year.

Puhleeze!

  Are they really thinking the Ole Miss community will believe for that kind of salary, the search firm could not turn up any other equally good candidates — or ones who might actually stay in the job longer than Boyce likely will?

  This sounds like another placeholder hiring, just like Boyce’s hiring in 2015 as higher education commissioner.

  The question is for whom he might be holding the place at Ole Miss, which is embroiled in an ongoing identity struggle between those who want to retain its Old South traditions and those who want to shelve them.

How much the College Board was influenced by the politicking that goes on when a university presidency becomes open is hard to know, as it conducts these searches in secret.

  But clearly there’s something fishy about how Boyce’s hiring went down.

  The College Board went through the pretense of forming an advisory committee of faculty, students and alums to provide their feedback on potential candidates, and swearing them to silence.     

  The College Board created the expectation that — even though everyone else would be left in the dark while the selection process proceeded — once the single finalist was chosen, he or she would go through the routine used in other recent presidential hires: namely, the presumptive choice would still have to spend a day meeting with campus groups before the College Board would make the hiring official.

  Its decision to skip that step with Boyce strongly suggests that it knew his selection would be unpopular not so much because of Boyce himself but because of the deceptive way in which he was hired.

  It’s the process more than the person that still has student and faculty campus groups miffed and taking votes of no confidence in the College Board.

  The College Board says the message is sinking in and it will re-evaluate how it looks for presidents in the future.

  The ONLY way it can restore that confidence is to abandon these secret searches.

When the College Board decided in 2006 that it would no longer release the names of any of the candidates for a president’s job until it settled on its choice, the rationale it gave was that such confidentiality would better ensure a good pool of talented candidates.

  Now, we’re supposed to believe that, despite the promise of secrecy, no one all that good applied at Ole Miss, so that’s why Boyce became the fallback choice. If that’s really what happened, then the argument for confidentiality has been proven bogus.

While we’re reforming things, the Legislature needs to reform the system that allows one governor to select the entire 12-member College Board.

  All of the current members are appointees of Phil Bryant. Although that oddity resulted from reducing members’ terms from 12 years to nine, theoretically it could happen again with the next governor, as Mississippi Today has reported this past week.

Regardless of whether Tate Reeves or Jim Hood wins in November,  the next governor, if he ends up serving two terms, will appoint four members to the College Board in 2021, four in 2024 and four more by recess appointment in 2027. Then, when the Legislature convenes in 2028, it can either confirm those recess appointments or another slate of four, if the governor elected in late 2027 has other people in mind.

  Giving such influence, real or potential, over the state’s universities to any one governor is too much.