Bounds top pick to lead higher ed

JACKSON – The 12-member College Board has reached outside of traditional higher education circles to select state Board of Education Superintendent Hank Bounds as its “preferred candidate” to oversee the Mississippi public university system.
Bounds, who has served as head of Mississippi’s K-12 system since 2005, was praised as a visionary leader who understands that education is the key to moving the state forward economically.
“He understands that public education is pre-K through the university level,” said University of Mississippi Chancellor Robert Khayat, who served as chair of a search advisory committee to the College Board.
“He understands the quality of life for all of us depends on the quality of the education system … I can’t imagine a person interviewing for a position being more impressive than Hank Bounds was.”
Bounds, 41, was announced as the preferred candidate during a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the Institutions of Higher Learning offices.
While he is not a traditional choice because he has no leadership experience in higher education, the possibility of his selection had leaked out in recent days.
Bounds will meet June 17 at the IHL office with various groups interested in the post, such as university presidents. The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning, commonly known as the College Board, will receive feedback from those groups later in the day and then decide to name Bounds as commissioner or to continue the search.
It would be unprecedented for the preferred candidate not to be selected by the board.
While Bounds’ career has been spent in secondary education and not higher education, College Board member Aubrey Patterson of Tupelo said Bounds “understands the continuum of education” and has built relationships with leaders in government, education and business. He was called a “visionary” by several people at the news conference.
“I am satisfied he is such a dynamic leader that he will really make a name for himself in higher education circles,” Patterson said.
Bounds said in a prepared statement, “While it is difficult to think about leaving my position as state superintendent, the possibilities of this new role are exciting.”
If Bounds is selected by the board on June 17, the state Board of Education must begin the search for a new superintendent.
“Joining the Institutions of Higher Learning community would provide an opportunity to build on my K-12 experience, push a P-16 mentality and move our state forward by providing more opportunities in education for all Mississippians,” Bounds said, referring to an education that goes from pre-kindergarten through college.
Bounds was announced as the preferred candidate Tuesday afternoon by College Board member Ed Blakeslee of Gulfport, who led the search.
The board met briefly in closed session via teleconference before the news conference. Only two members of the board were in Jackson. The rest participated through the teleconference. Blakeslee said the vote for Bounds was unanimous.
While a Mississippian was selected, Blakeslee said the board had outstanding applicants from throughout the country.
Bounds was praised for his efforts to improve state test scores, improve accountability measures, reduce the dropout rate and to raise private funds for public education.
Bounds would make $341,250 annually in the commissioner’s post, plus a $25,000 a year housing allowance. The state superintendent’s salary is set by law at 90 percent of the higher education commissioner’s.
Aubrey Lucas, former president of the University of Southern Mississippi, has been serving as interim higher ed commissioner. He replaced Thomas Meredith, who stepped down in November after being embroiled in a controversy over Mississippi State University providing free landscaping work at his Jackson area home.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal