Sunday, May 21, 2023

Bill Crawford: Frequent, Abrupt Presidential Changes Cast Spotlight on IHL Board

 What’s Driving Presidential Turnover in Mississippi?” read Inside Higher Ed’s headline last week. “Four presidents have left Mississippi’s eight public institutions since last June, with little explanation,” began the article.

In June 2022, William LaForge was abruptly removed as president of Delta State University. “IHL did not provide its own reason for the move, and the trustees did not discuss the decision publicly at the board meeting last week,” reported the Greenwood Commonwealth. Board minutes show his contract was “terminated for the Board’s convenience.”

Dr. Rodney D. Bennett planned to step down as president of the University of Southern Mississippi in June 2023 but was unexpectedly gone on July 15, 2022. “The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning decided to drastically shorten that timetable,” reported Mississippi Today. “No reason was given in the IHL news release what prompted the alteration of Bennett’s timetable.” Board minutes show his contract was also “terminated for the Board’s convenience.”

On March 2, 2023, the IHL Board placed Dr. Thomas K. Hudson, president of Jackson State University, on administrative leave. Two weeks later he resigned. “The IHL has not disclosed why Hudson was placed on administrative leave,” the Clarion-Ledger reported. Board minutes show he was to be notified the Board was considering terminating his contract “for cause.”

In April 2023, Dr. Felecia Nave was removed as president of Alcorn State University. “No reason was given for the unexpected change in leadership at Alcorn, and it is not known as of yet if Nave resigned or was terminated,” reported the Magnolia Tribune. (Board minutes were not yet published for April 2023.)

The IHL Board “has not publicly acknowledged concerns about the high rate of turnover,” reported Inside Higher Ed, adding that a statement issued by IHL Commissioner Al Rankins shed little light. 

Underlying these presidential turnovers is growing faculty unrest. 

There is no question that the IHL Board has the constitutional authority to act as it has. Over my 12 years on the board we removed a handful of presidents with little public comment. 

Still, the frequency and abruptness of these recent turnovers are troubling and should give trustees pause. 

Articles like the one in Inside Higher Ed can impact faculty and administrative hires – who wants to move into controversy. 

Additionally, the current environment may encourage those who wish to give each institution its own governing board, or establish one board for research universities and another for the other four.

Most serious would be public loss of confidence in the board.

Power given in the state constitution can be changed. That occurred in 2003 when public concern about the board led voters to reduce trustee terms from 12 years to 9 years.

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor” – 1 Timothy 5:17.

Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Jackson. He served on the IHL Board from 1992 to 2004.


Anonymous said...

IHL Commissioner Al Rankins is a total joke and embarrassment to the state. How are we paying this clown over $400,000?

Anonymous said...

LaForge was a horrible fit at DSU. He was pushing a liberal agenda and spending money that didn’t need to be spent remodeling the presidents home when it would have been cheaper to tear it down and rebuild it was the icing on the cake. He pissed a lot of people off in his time. Good riddance to that guy.

Anonymous said...

LaForge did not live up to his self-promotion.

Anonymous said...

Each university or at least the so-called research schools should have their own board, otherwise they never develop to their own potential but rather to the whims and biases of a single board, always dominated by the governor's preference. It's inefficient and unfair and it will continue until it pisses off enough of the alumni of the top two research schools. That's the political power. But why should they change it? They still get the lion's share.

Anonymous said...

Hiring: Blind color and gender selection per qualifications.
Compensation: Merit pay or small salary plus merit bonus.

PittPanther said...

If Laforge was so bad, why did IHL hire him? IHL has to be held responsible for their screw ups, they can't just say "he didn't work out." If they don't know how to hire the right people, IHL members should not keep their jobs.

Anonymous said...

It does what it was designed to do. THE IHL BOARD is intended to CONTROL Higher education in Mississippi, NOT to PROMOTE Higher Education.

Anonymous said...

OMG: Crawford actually wrote an article worth reading. For the first time in ages I want to call some people I know and find out what’s going on because of something Crawford wrote. I’m like in shock right now. Are we realllllyyyy sure a chat bot didn’t write this article cause it’s really good, not like his other self serving crap? Asking for a friend of course.

Anonymous said...

OMG: Crawford actually wrote an article worth reading. For the first time in ages I want to call some people I know and find out what’s going on because of something Crawford wrote. I’m like in shock right now. Are we realllllyyyy sure a chat bot didn’t write this article cause it’s really good, not like his other self serving crap? Asking for a friend of course.

Anonymous said...

The college board hires presidents to do their bidding, not the bidding of the alumni and supporters of the various institutions. In many cases it's like a conflict of interest especially if your college is not a favorite of the board membership. It means some of the presidents are just well paid puppets.

Anonymous said...

Probably either power struggles between them and the school presidents or certain powerful alumni are complaining about them. The new Chancellor at Ole Miss was a major upgrade, though I had my doubts at the beginning.

Anonymous said...

Bennett was notified that his contract would not be renewed by the board for another term and subsequently left early. The university foundered under his leadership and Joe Paul is overwhelmingly preferred as his successor at USM. No controversy there, except that Bennett was strangely hired in 2013 when Paul was the logical and preferred choice by USM interests.

Anonymous said...

And, still, they raise tuition EVERY year.

Anonymous said...

One thing for sure that's not Pheel's phault!

Anonymous said...

4:52PM, you read my freaking mind!!!

I’m reading this Crawford piece wondering “am I missing something?”

I don’t ever remember reading anything of Crawford’s that wasn’t a Democrat lap dog hit piece on Conservatives. He’s so bad I unsubscribed from the Mississippi Journal.

For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. Galatians 6:3

Anonymous said...

Even though it's pretty obvious that Jackson State is dead meat being located in the dying city of Jackson the IHL should not simply appoint some bozo to continue to run it into the ground. Even a serious qualified candidate will have trouble saving it now. So why not actually hire a progressive academician with lofty goals. In today's Jackson it won't even matter. And it will make the board look like they give a damn.(which they don't). In regard to JSU the board's job has become much easier.

Notice that even with Coach Prime hawking the place, JSU LOST enrollment.

Anonymous said...


It took some time for his narcissism to leak out.

Anonymous said...

8:04 said, "Notice that even with Coach Prime hawking the place, JSU LOST enrollment."

KF, can you confirm if this is true? JSU received a ton of publicity, all of it was overwhelmingly positive during the Coach Sanders years. If JSU lost enrollment during this period, then some very loud alarms should be triggered.

Anonymous said...

Most universities have dropped enrollment. I blame post-COVID, the economy, and most certainly woke politics.

2018: 7,250
2019: 7,020
2020 (Neon Hired): 6,921
2021: 7,080
2022: 6,906

2018: 21,974
2019: 22,226
2020: 22,986
2021: 23,086
2022: 22,649

Anonymous said...

Dollars to donuts other idiot presidents in Mississippi are on deck to be given the boot.

Unknown said...

4:08 - and lower enrollments may be a good thing. There are entirely too many kids going to college these days. Why? The Feds have made it easy to get tuition money. Many that should be hitting the job market right out of high school are delaying the move in order to avoid work. They look at college as an extension of their cushy home life.

Anonymous said...

@7:42am Hear, hear!

There is a reckoning coming with colleges who can't support brick and mortar projects any longer since Covid proved you can get your shingle online (which is worthless). The collapse I predict will come about the same time the commercial real estate market crashes due to the same thing. A trillion $$$ in office space is no longer needed since the online movement, nor are a million worthless college "administrators".

Anonymous said...

High schools are not training high school students for jobs unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

5:21 is correct about Rodney Bennett and Joe Paul.

Bennett's announcement "to pursue other opportunities" came after he was informed the IHL board was not going to extend his contract. I don't blame the IHL board for taking action to put an interim president (Joe Paul) in place quickly and not allowing the university to continue with lame duck leadership. IHL honored its contractual agreement with Bennett, so no chance of any wrongful termination lawsuit.

As interim president, Paul hit the ground running during his "audition" and proved he could be a good president for USM. Tom Duff isn't a billionaire because he has made bad business decisions and that acumen has extended to his service on the IHL board.

One can look to the past when there were IHL board members such as Roy Klumb and Carl Nicholson, who led the support for Shelby Thames to become USM's president 20+ years ago. A disastrous presidency for USM. Martha Saunders checked the box to make history as the first female president, but some of her leadership decisions did not mesh with the IHL board, in particular one from Hattiesburg who is a USM alum. Rodney Bennett checked the minority hire box to make history, but did not work to cultivate donors or athletics.

Joe Paul learned "how things operate" from his years as an administrator under the beloved Aubrey Lucas. The only negative with Joe is he is now 70 or close to it, and he came out of PERS retirement to take the presidency. However, if you know Joe Paul, you know he is a "young 70" and his enthusiasm for and love of USM is unquestionable.

Anonymous said...

Let me try again. For some reason, the King of all Fishes decided to zap this earlier post.

LaForge was and is a local Cleveland, MS boy. I grew up with him. His daddy was a Western Civilization professor at Delta State. The younger moved off to the upper east where he was liberalized and radicalized. Then he made his way back down here and got hired to run DSU.

He caused all manner of grief and push back when he decided to close the hundred year old golf course. He then decided he needed a new mansion and had one built after razing the old president's home.

He decided he needed to expand the cafeteria to include a private dining room for his personal guests, so he had one built.

Then, probably the camel's straw, he decided to support and advertise a drag-queen show on campus (Broom Hall) and did so, publicly, announcing in print and voice that it was a 'family friendly event'. That pissed off most alumni, all contributors, the entire local community and the IHL Board.

He will work out just fine either in Connecticut or Los Angeles.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'll be. And something about Nebraska and Mississippi is ringing a bell....

Anonymous said...

Indeed. The Hank Bounds connection.

When Hank Bounds stepped down as the University of Nebraska system president, evidently he left on good terms as he was later hired back by Nebraska as a $250,000/year athletic fundraising consultant, with a three-year consulting contract.

The current Lincoln campus chancellor (who reports to the system president) is set to retire at the end of June.

Justin Case said...

I totally lost count of the number of times Aubrey Lucas was called back to USM as 'Interim President'.

And the head dog at IHL has his family name plastered across the front of the USM field house.

Anonymous said...

Al Rankins makes HOW MUCH???

Anonymous said...

Al Rankins is just warming a chair. No new initiatives during his tenure. Senior staff is also likely overpaid when compared to peers. Shad needs to peer review those salary oversight. IHL board is oblivious to what real system level work requires.

Cbalducc said...

According to “Mississippi Today”, Delta State’s enrollment declined 29 percent from 2014 to 2022. Is it right to blame that on Laforge’s politics?

Anonymous said...

The DSU decline in enrollment was split equally among white and black students. TL;DR there was no white flight at DSU. There was just flight.

Cbalducc said...

How can you increase enrollment when you’re in a part of the country that has lost a lot of population over the decades?

Anonymous said...

@ 10:11 PM, yes. MS is seeing a consolidation of it's university students. The smaller schools are losing enrollment to MSU and Ole Miss because they can't offer the same quality of experience. That, of course, becomes self-perpetuating: by losing students, they have fewer resources to compete with the Big 2 and the Big 2 achieve efficiencies and can provide a better education and experience for less. I think MSU trended backwards this year. That's something to keep an eye on.

Time for the IHL to make structural changes.

Cbalducc said...

Why has there been so much administrative turmoil at USM?

Anonymous said...

Have not lived in Mississippi past 8 years, so unsure if still 8 institutions of higher learning. No secret that Mississippi has not be able to support that number of institutions for at least 30 years.

Cbalducc said...

There are the “Big Three” (or the Big Dour is you count Jackson State) and the “Little Five” (four if you exclude Jackson State).

Anonymous said...

As someone who just went through a MS college, here is my thoughts. Schools are way too expensive. If charged in real money, not grants, scholarships or loans, nobody would pay these prices. Schools are pushing online courses- to their detriment. Why should I pay the same price for an online course that was recorded months ago as for in class? Additionally, I can do online anywhere.

Young people would be wise to learn a trade. Go to work. Stay away from student debt. Some
of these colleges will be your silent partner for decades based on the ridiculous cost of college.

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