SID SALTER: Tim Ford's name moves into Ole Miss chancellor search

While there are indeed some distinct differences, the similarities in the current search to find a successor to Ole Miss Chancellor Robert C. Khayat and the one that finally produced Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum in November are undeniable.
How so? Let me count the ways:
– The search firm in charge of both the Ole Miss search and the one to choose a new Mississippi commissioner of higher education is the Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search. That firm’s president, Dan Parker, is the former partner of Jerry Baker of Baker amp& Associates – the firm that conducted MSU’s presidential search that produced Keenum as State’s president.
– As with the last three presidential searches at MSU, Ole Miss alums have some active factions supporting different candidates or potential candidates – including some nontraditional candidates. The three most frequently speculated names in the Ole Miss search are Jackson attorney R. Barry Cannada, current University of Mississippi Medical Center vice chancellor and medical school dean Dr. Dan Jones and former House speaker Tim Ford.
– The state College Board’s search is being conducted in secret behind closed doors with limited input from university stakeholders. There exists the very real possibility that as it was when Gen. Robert “Doc” Foglesong was selected as MSU’s president, most alumni, faculty, staff and students will have their first substantive exposure to their new chancellor after he’s been named to the job.
The secrecy continues to be observed in the name of attracting quality applicants – as it was in the recent MSU, University of Southern Mississippi, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State searches.
– There is, for some Ole Miss supporters and alums, a consideration of the new chancellor’s intentions in terms of the school’s present athletic director, Pete Boone. His friends want him protected, his enemies want him sacked. It’s the same stakes of the game that involved former longtime MSU athletic director Larry Templeton during two of the last three presidential searches at MSU.
What is different in the current Ole Miss search is that Khayat’s successor will be following one of the university’s most beloved and respected chancellors. Foglesong’s departure at MSU was a rough one that followed months of turmoil on and off campus.
Khayat’s act at Ole Miss will be an extremely tough one to follow. His tenure has been marked by an unprecedented period of progress at a school that dug itself into a deep hole back in 1962. But in 2009 at Ole Miss, Khayat’s retirement comes at a time when the university’s fortunes are sky high. Khayat’s long and productive program of image change at the university culminated in hosting one of the 2008 presidential debates.
Perhaps the most glowing tribute to Khayat’s career success in Oxford came during the most recent presidential search at State. Then, College Board members were repeatedly told that MSU supporters believed it was time that they be allowed to hire “our Bobby Khayat” – a State alum who would make the long personal commitment to being a transformational figure at his or her alma mater that Khayat had obviously made in Oxford.
Contact syndicated columnist Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.com.

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