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Letter to the Editor: State Leaders Should Adopt Legislation to Eliminate IHL

By Kevin Frye
District 1 Supervisor, Lafayette County
Candidate, Mississippi Senate District 9


Process matters! This is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as a public servant. Should we allow Sunday alcohol sales? Is a zoning ordinance necessary to manage Lafayette County’s rapid growth? Can Lafayette County, Oxford and the University of Mississippi agree on our infrastructure priorities in a joint planning process?

I’ve been a leader at the table, both while serving as one of Lafayette County’s elected Supervisors and before, while our community faced these and numerous other significant decisions. From the beginning of each process, it was understood that there were varied perspectives and multiple interests to consider along the way to a decision. We knew that there was no easy answer, that our community was watching, and that it was unlikely everyone would agree with our ultimate decision. It was precisely for these reasons that we set out to be transparent, thorough and thoughtful. If our process inspired confidence, we knew that our ultimate decision would as well.

I’ve reflected on these experiences as our community struggles to understand the IHL decision to use a “back-door” procedure to name our next chancellor. By cutting short a process thoughtfully designed to seek and consider input, the IHL decision resulted in turmoil and dissatisfaction, not unity, in the Ole Miss family.

The decisions to sell alcohol on Sundays, implement county-wide zoning and prioritize transportation needs and investment did not ultimately achieve unanimous support in our community. But the transparent process we followed in each instance achieved something the IHL clearly did not – we inspired confidence in our constituents that we had thoroughly researched the options, considered various interests and perspectives, and thoughtfully approached the ultimate decision.

In acting with such obvious disregard for the views of many of its constituents, the IHL appears to have lost any remaining credibility or goodwill it may have previously enjoyed while simultaneously creating a cloud over their choice for a new chancellor.

I’ve listened to many viewpoints from alumni, faculty, staff, students, members of the IHL appointed Campus Search Advisory Committee and local leadership. While opinions are decidedly mixed about what to expect from our new chancellor’s tenure, they are nearly unanimous that no university community should ever again be treated with such disregard by the IHL. It is for these reasons that I believe our newly elected legislative leaders should take the following actions at the beginning of the 2020 legislative session:

1. Independent Governance:

Leaders should work with the 23 Republican and 16 Democratic senators, and others, who co-authored Senate Concurrent Resolution 654 during the 2015 Regular Session of the Legislature to advance similar legislation designed to eliminate the IHL. This Resolution, whose principal author was outgoing District 9 Senator Gray Tollison, sought to amend Section 213A of Mississippi’s Constitution to create individual boards of trustees to
administer Mississippi’s eight public universities, each working in collaboration with a statewide board of governors. Separate university boards would, by their very nature, function with more accountability to their community.

2. Transparent, Standard Process:

Leaders should immediately introduce legislation eliminating any available “back-door” procedure in the process designed to name new university leadership. This is a discretionary power that was used to subvert the agreed process – it must be eliminated to ensure it is not used again. This legislation should also set forth requirements for all future candidate searches, including provisions mandating a standardized, fair and legitimate process designed to inspire confidence through meaningful community input and transparency. The success of our flagship institution is important to a broad cross-section of Mississippians. However, Ole Miss has an outsized daily impact on those who work, study and live in her shadow. Input and inclusion should, therefore, be meaningful for all constituencies – not conveniently disregarded when expedient in Jackson.

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