EDITORIAL: Jones and Bounds

Mississippi’s trustees of Institutions of Higher Learning announced preferred candidates for two key vacancies Tuesday afternoon – and created an equally important vacancy in another state education agency.
As widely expected, Dan Jones, M.D., was named chancellor-designate of the University of Mississippi, in effect a promotion from vice chancellor for health affairs. He is expected, after a round of campus meetings on June 15, to succeed Chancellor Robert Khayat, who is retiring after an exceptional 14-year tenure.
The IHL trustees, usually known as the College Board, announced Hank Bounds, the current state superintendent of K-12 education as the preferred candidate higher education commissioner. He will be the person to whom Jones and the seven other universities’ presidents directly report.
Bounds will succeed interim commissioner Aubrey Lucas, who has filled to role since Thomas Meredith stepped down amid controversy.
Jones and Bounds, both Mississippians, come to their new positions with rich experience and strong academic qualifications. They are known quantities in our state, which prefers familiarity in almost everything.
The vacancy in the state superintendency is problematic. Bounds has worked to infuse the K-12 system – and its testing standards – with more reflective measures by which to compare our schools with other schools across the country. Bounds’ departure presents both challenges and opportunity.
The first challenge is in finding a successor who can move into the position and hit the ground running before the fall semester begins or soon thereafter. Mississippi’s school situation is like that in many other states: Funding is often problematic, academic challenges – often related to race – abound, and faltering support is the norm in too many communities. It all requires passion and resilience on many fronts.
However, Bounds’ selection by the IHL trustees jumped outside the box of a top executive solely with higher education credentials.
The Mississippi State Board of Education should look beyond convention in selecting Bounds’ successor, including consideration of an experienced and successful executive/manager for the position. That would require a change in state law, but if the best candidate comes from outside the traditional track, then make it possible to hire that person.
Louisiana, for example, hired a non-traditional state superintendent in 2008, choosing former NASA leader Paul Pastorek.
Apart from the search, the Legislature can support the board’s task by immediately and fully funding K-12 education. It is widely expected that session will adjourn today without a budget for 2010, which begins July 1.
That’s not a magnet to attract top candidates.

NEMS Daily Journal