Speculation on who the next chancellor of the University of Mississippi will be has been constant among Ole Miss constituencies and beyond ever since Robert Khayat announced in January that he planned to retire at the end of June.
The speculation will end on Tuesday when the state Board of Trustees of Institutions of Higher Learning announces its “preferred candidate” for the post held by Khayat for 14 extraordinarily productive years. While it’s not a final, official hiring, it would take a lot of negative feedback for the board to back off a public declaration of its favorite.
The IHL Board will also announce its choice as commissioner of higher education, the person to whom all the university leaders in Mississippi report. That name will be a matter of great interest and importance, but the pre-announcement anticipation hasn’t matched the buzz surrounding the Ole Miss selection. Given the depth of feeling about individual institutions, that’s only natural.
The IHL board seems to be hitting a better stride in conducting university president searches after considerable controversy when it switched several years ago to a more confidential process. One product of that new process, Robert “Doc” Foglesong at Mississippi State University, didn’t work out so well, but his successor, Mark Keenum, and University of Southern Mississippi President Martha Saunders are two who appear at this point to be very much on the positive side of the ledger.
The systematic input that the process invites from diverse university constituencies, including a search advisory panel, has seemed to improve with each university leadership vacancy. Protecting the names of applicants, particularly early in the process, can be justified as a means of attracting a better field. The test of the process ultimately is in the results it produces, and those are trending upward.
Of course, there are always those who want it known that they are interested in the job and are not above overt campaigning among constituencies. There have been a few of those in the Ole Miss search, but the likelihood that one will be selected as the “preferred candidate” is slim.
Ole Miss needs a strong leader with credible academic credentials who, while not another Khayat, would build on the strong foundation of progress he has laid.
Additionally, the state’s overall university system needs a leader who can continue the recent progress toward a more unified and coordinated approach to higher education among Mississippi’s eight institutions. Needless competition and duplication among institutions is neither efficient nor affordable in a state with limited resources.
The decisions to be announced Tuesday are vitally important to all the state’s universities, and thus to all Mississippians.
NEMS Daily Journal