JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — With University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones saying he couldn't reach an agreement with the state College Board to extend his contract, Higher Education Commissioner Jim Borsig said the board will launch a national search for a replacement.
Borsig said Thursday that process is likely to take at least six months, meaning the 23,000-student university may need an interim leader.
The broken relationship between Jones and the majority of the trustees who govern the school couldn't be mended under the glare of protests and alumni threatening to withhold donations. Jones admitted as much Thursday, saying he couldn't reach an agreement with the board to renew his contract past its current expiration date in September.
Meanwhile, Jones supporters said they fear damage to the school.
"I think it's going to be difficult to get these people to rally behind a new chancellor and I think it could be a very difficult transition," said Michael Barnett, chair of the faculty senate and a theater professor. Faculty, students and alumni groups has been pushing the board to retain Jones after the board announced it would let Jones' contract expire in December.
Jim Barksdale, the university's largest donor and a former Netscape CEO, said he didn't think trustees could hire anyone as good as Jones, and that even a good hire could create a two-year pause in momentum at Ole Miss.
"If it's well-run and done right, I'm sure it can be someone who's good, but there's going to be a big hiccup here," Barksdale said.
Barksdale, who was deeply involved in negotiations to save Jones' job, said at the bottom, Jones' aggressive protection of his authority wore out the good will of board members. He views board concerns over financial management at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson as a pretext.
"People just wanted him to leave and basically it was because he had been disrespectful to the members of the board in their view," Barksdale said. "They didn't want to tolerate it anymore and they shut it down."
Buffeted by public pressure since the decision was announced March 20, the board had offered a deal to allow Jones to continue until June 2017, but require him to retire at that point. Jones said he wanted a chance to stay on after then, and refused to accept the deal, saying being a "lame duck" would make it hard to hire executives and win donations.
In recent days, Jones and Borsig met individually with a number of the board's 12 members, with Jones unsuccessfully seeking to change their minds.
"It is clear from the board's position that the board would not support my leadership during any extension," he said in a statement he read at a news conference in Oxford. "For the university to thrive and succeed, the university needs a leader who has the support of its governing board, which I clearly do not enjoy."
One final sign of the fracture? The board put out its own announcement moments before the news conference began, depriving Jones of the chance to deliver the news himself.
The board cited numerous examples of contracts that were improperly handled at the medical center, which has 10,000 employees and a $1.6 billion budget. Jones, a 66-year-old physician, ran the medical center before being named chancellor in 2009.
"The board by law provides oversight," Borsig said. "They had an expectation that these issues would be addressed, and they weren't."
Jones, in a news conference, continued to disagree that the problems were as severe as trustees portrayed, and said improvements were "taking place at an appropriate pace."
"By my nonobjective view, none of the things that were cited were reason to terminate the leader of a university," he said.
None of the nine trustees The Associated Press attempted to contact Thursday returned calls immediately, including outgoing board President Aubrey Patterson of Tupelo and incoming board President Alan Perry of Jackson.
Supporters continued to stand by Jones. Anthony Papa, president of the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation, said again Thursday that the foundation would retract the $20 million it's promised for a new science building.
"I think this is inexcusable," Papa said.
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