Hed: Fordice lauds College Board nominees, blasts Senate members
By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Legal action is an option Gov. Kirk Fordice said he is considering in an attempt to seat his four nominees to the state College Board.
The four – including Hassell Franklin of Houston – were not seated after the Senate Universities and Colleges subcommittee failed to approve them during the legislative session completed in April. The subcommittee praised the men’s qualifications, but criticized the governor for nominating four white men to the 12-member board.
On Thursday, the governor stood by his nominees during a news conference called specifically to laud their qualifications and to blast members of the Senate.
Fordice also refused to say what his next step will be but raised the specter of taking the issue to court.
“We are examining all possible options, including legal action,” said the governor, who makes nominations to the board that must be approved by the Senate under state law.
Fordice said there are a number of cases, including a recent one involving the University of Texas School of Law, where the courts ruled that institutions could not exclude someone under the guise of diversity. He said the federal court prevented the Texas Law School practice of excluding white applicants in favor of minorities in an effort to be more diverse.
If it is wrong for student admission to be based on race, then it also is not right to use the criteria for the selection of the university board members, he said.
Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who presides over the Senate, said if the case is taken to court, “we will abide by the wishes of the judge.”
Criticizing Musgrove, senators
Musgrove and members of the Universities and Colleges subcommittee were criticized by Fordice.
During the news conference and at previous events, Fordice has criticized Musgrove for not using his influence to get the nominees approved.
After the news conference, Musgrove said his duty was to appoint committee chairmen. Musgrove, who pledged before his election to appoint a diverse group of chairmen, named Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, as chairman of the Universities and Colleges Committee. Frazier, a black, sent the four nominations to a subcommittee headed by Johnnie Walls, D-Greenville, who also is black.
Walls and Frazier both have said the four nominees are qualified. But they said the nominations should have included a woman or a minority. If the four were approved, the board would consist of eight white males, two black males and two white females.
Walls has said Fordice has not appointed many minorities or women to any boards during his tenure.
Fordice blasted Walls and Frazier for refusing to approve the four for no reason “but their skin color. And that my friends is racial discrimination and that is wrong.”
While Fordice blasted the senators and Musgrove, he praised the four nominees – Franklin, John McCarty of Jackson, Thomas McNeese of Columbia and Ralph Simmons of Laurel. He read a long list of accomplishments on each of them.
“I am awed by the accomplishments of these four Mississippians,” Fordice said.
While Fordice ponders what to do with his nominees, the College Board is four people short. The terms of four members ended earlier this month. The College Board is scheduled to meet Thursday.
Under state law, the College Board cannot take any action unless eight of the 12 members are present. So until those four slots are filled, every member will have to be present for the board to take action.
Fordice said Thursday that College Board member Jake Mills of Tupelo had been ill and may miss Thursday’s meeting.
If less than eight members are present, College Board spokeswoman Pam Meyer said the other members could meet and hear reports.
“Then they can vote on the issues later,” she said.