Ole Miss chancellor and trustees: Job talks continue

AP News
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Posted: Mar 27, 2015 8:16 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones and trustees said Friday that they're still talking about renewing his contract, but that they haven't yet reached an agreement.

"It's likely going to take a couple of days for us to consummate our discussion," Jones said in a phone interview.

The 12-member College Board met for more than 90 minutes in closed session Friday afternoon. But it's unclear whether trustees, who oversee all eight of Mississippi's public universities, took any votes. Afterward, Higher Education Commissioner Jim Borsig, the board's chief executive, emphasized that the board wants to keep talks under wraps.

"As long as discussions are continuing, we're not going to communicate through the press, and we're not going to talk to the press," Borsig said. "Those discussions may take a little bit of time."

He answered most other questions from reporters with some variation of that statement. Jones said earlier that he and Borsig "don't want to negotiate through the media."

The clampdown comes a day after The Associated Press reported that trustees had proposed a two-year contract extension to Jones, citing individuals informed by people directly involved in the talks. The individuals spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they weren't authorized to discuss sensitive negotiations publicly.

The proposal was shorter than the normal four-year contract offered to presidents, and would have required Jones to make a public apology to trustees.

Friday, it was unclear whether that particular proposal remained alive. Jones did not attend the board meeting, and all trustees except outgoing board President Aubrey Patterson and incoming President Alan Perry participated by telephone. The board isn't required to disclose executive session votes until they publish meeting minutes next month.

The 66-year-old physician, who headed the Jackson-based medical center before being named chancellor, said he still believed he could have a functional relationship with trustees.

"Over the course of a long career, I have had effective and healthy relationships with people I've worked for," Jones said. "I've never lost a job."

He pledged to do more on his part to work with and listen to trustees.

One factor working in Jones' favor is he's negotiating with Borsig, until recently the president of the Mississippi University for Women, and not the outgoing Hank Bounds, who's becoming the president of the University of Nebraska. Jones said Friday that his relationship with Bounds was "at times strained," while he described Borsig as a friend.

The 23,000-student university has been in an uproar since the board refused to retain Jones. Trustees said they were worried about financial and contracting practices at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and said Jones hadn't respected the board's authority to provide oversight.

Students and faculty have rushed to his defense, staging protests in favor of keeping him at the school. His supporters include top alumni like author John Grisham and football star Archie Manning, and one foundation has threatened to withhold a $20 million donation.

Another student protest is scheduled Sunday at the College Board office in Jackson.

State Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, who introduced a proposal to radically overhaul the College Board in reaction to the Jones nonrenewal, announced Friday he was giving up on the plan for this year. Senate President Pro Tem Giles Ward, R-Louisville, said in the same joint statement it was too late in the 2015 legislative session to attempt such a big change.

Tollison said he hoped his effort this year would "mark the beginning of a process of positive change."

A call for a study of university governance in the state House has not yet advanced.

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