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Abolish the IHL? Enacting Change Will Take More Than Protests, Resolutions

By Alyssa Schnugg
News editor

The Lyceum. Photo by Talbert Toole.

The University of Mississippi Faculty Senate will be considering a resolution tonight that would call for the abolishment of the Institute of Higher Learning.

Several other campus organizations have already issued statements calling for the end of the IHL; however, it may be easier said than done.

The dissent happened earlier this month when the IHL announced it hired Glenn Boyce as the new chancellor, veering from its own bylaws and hiring protocols.

Based in Jackson, the 12-member College Board sets the policies and oversees the finances of Mississippi’s eight public universities: Alcorn State, Delta State, Jackson State, Mississippi State, Mississippi University for Women, Mississippi Valley State, University of Southern Mississippi and Ole Miss.

The IHL is part of the state’s constitution. To bring about any change or abolish the IHL, it would take a two-thirds vote from the House and Senate and then it would be placed on a ballot for the residents of Mississippi to decide.

“That is an extremely difficult thing to do,” said Sen. Gray Tollison (R-Oxford). He should know — he’s tried it before.

Gray Tollison. File photo.

Tollison introduced a bill to the Senate in 2015 after former UM Chancellor Dan Jones’ contract was not renewed by the IHL. Then-Rep. Brad Mayo (R-Oxford) introduced a similar bill into the House.

Both bills proposed limiting the power of the IHL by allowing each university to have its own Board of Trustees with the IHL being more of a Board of Governors that would still have control over statewide issues of its eight colleges and universities. It would not, however, control individual university decisions, such as hiring a new chancellor.

“There are a lot of out-of-state notable alumni who would like the chance to sit on the board, but the way it is now, you have to live in Mississippi,” Tollison said. “A lot of them would like to feel they have some input and that it would be helpful if they had a voice.”

Neither bill ever made it to the floor.

Since Tollison is not seeking re-election in November, he said he is unaware of any legislators currently developing similar legislation. 

“There just wasn’t a lot of support,” he said. “Even with how things are now, I just don’t see it passing. With Dan Jones, there were a lot of public outcries but even then, it didn’t have enough support. (UM) is just one of eight schools.”

Another route that could be taken by those who want to see IHL abolished or radically changed would be to try to get it on the ballot as an initiative.

According to State law, for an initiative measure to be placed on the ballot, a minimum of 86,185 certified signatures must be gathered with at least 17,237 certified signatures from each of the five congressional districts.

That’s a lot of John Handcocks, but for people like Arielle Hudson, president of the UM Black Student Union and Senator with the Associated Student Body, the effort is worth the work. The BSU released a statement last week on its intent to abolish the IHL.

“The IHL was initially created to keep politics out of the decisions impacting higher education in the state,” Hudson said. “Over the past few years, that has started to change and the IHL has been neglecting and circumventing many of the duties it was created to handle. I don’t know if a perfect governing board model exists, but I do know that one that is democratic, transparent, and representative of the make-up of the state is essential.”

However, Hudson said the BSU is still considering its options to bring about change but could not clarify a concrete plan. 

Included in the resolution being considered tonight by the Faculty Senate are two points of actions – to initiate a conversation with faculty senates at all eight colleges aimed at a joint critique of the IHL actions and to invite the ASB, alumni associations and all stakeholders to call their representatives to ask them to initiate constitutional amendment to “abolish IHL and substitute it was some other more responsive and representative governing system.”

While changing or getting rid of the IHL would be a difficult task, those who aren’t confident in the IHL’s leadership will be glad to know there may soon be some change.

More than a decade ago, the state legislator changed IHL board members’ terms from 12 to eight years. This allowed current Gov. Phil Bryant to be able to appoint all 12 sitting trustees. After the election in November, the new governor will appoint four new IHL board members in 2021.

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