New leadership finalized this week in two pivotal positions within Mississippi’s higher education community creates a prime opportunity for a collegial reassessment of our eight universities’ capacity and intent to shape prosperity and quality of life issues.
The confirmation of Commissioner of Higher Education Hank Bounds and University of Mississippi Chancellor-designate Dan Jones completes a year of new top executive hires at the three comprehensive universities.
Martha Saunders was hired in April 2008 to lead the University of Southern Mississippi, and Mark Keenum assumed the presidency at Mississippi State University in January.
Bounds, who has been Mississippi’s state superintendent of education, replaces interim Aubrey Lucas, who was named to the post after Tom Meredith resigned in 2008 under pressure and in controversy.
The Board of Trustees of Institutions of Higher Learning defied convention in hiring Bounds, who has not been a university or college administrator but has a solid record in all the public education administrative positions he’s held.
The coincidence of having new leaders in the four positions creates the potential for an expanded dynamic involving the comprehensive universities and the five regional universities in unprecedented joint ventures for the state’s economic development, raising the educational attainment level, and focusing academic resources toward particular goals linked to jobs and prosperity.
The distinctives and personalities of the individual universities needn’t be sacrificed in turning toward broader and deeper cooperative and complementary ventures.
All the universities have been dealt financial blows by faltering state support, so the idea of outright academic competition is unaffordable and self-defeating.
Support from private-sector gifts and endowment income must play an increasing role, especially at USM, UM and MSU, whose alumni bases are larger and whose quasi-independent foundations better established than at the five regionals.
Because of the state’s financial situation, business as usual is not an option, and innovation will succeed only initiated at the top.
Each university president will have separate goals, but unless they are in some way made into a cooperative venture, few can fully succeed.
We hope a new vision of higher education will include smashing artificial barriers like those dividing the state into spheres of influence for branch campuses.
University education should be geared to the opportunities and challenges presented in each region where a degree-granting branch is located. That kind of alignment would allow each of the universities to participate based on academic strengths meeting students’ needs rather than an invisible line drawn on a map.
Mississippi must make best use of its scarce resources.
NEMS Daily Journal