I moved to Clinton about two decades ago. I was 20 at the time, newly married (gasp!), and very naive. School was a stop and start venture for me, finally finishing when I was 25. Because of family responsibilities, I chose to go to the local college, Mississippi College. And when I got ready to go back for my M.B.A., again Mississippi College was the logical choice.
I was always impressed by the professors there. Dr. Cox taught me to appreciate the world of the fruit fly, while Dr. Stark introduced me to the unattractive, but fascinating, stone fly. Later, Dr. Lee unraveled the mysteries of global economics. And Dr. Roberts fanned the flames of my love for business. There were many more who touched me, not only by their knowledge and ability, but by their devotion to their jobs. I was always aware that these people made financial sacrifices to teach at this place.
When the news broke about the scandal involving Dr. Nobles, the former president of MC, these good people were embarrassed. But they held their heads high, and they endured. Excitement abounded on the campus and in the city when a new president was named. Finally, Mississippi College could come out of the shadows. And when new, shiny buildings started springing up on campus, the city of Clinton burst its buttons with pride. While the school had always been an integral part of Clinton, now it was a showpiece.
But the shadows have come back.
Mississippi College is again in the midst of a scandal. Once again, it involves the “disappearance” of a lot of money. This time, no one is suggesting criminal intent. Regardless, the money is still gone. Professors are being asked to sacrifice financially again, while taking up the slack related to budget cuts. Students are concerned about programs and scholarships. And while the entire town is buzzing, few are willing to speak on the record.
What do I see? I see a beautiful campus with a gorgeous dome, clock tower and sparkling fitness center. What do I hear? Rumors, innuendos and plain, dirty insults.
When I ask how could the college have run out of money, I get a long, rambling explanation that boils down to “I don’t know.” Supposedly, the problem is one that dates back 20 years or so. I wonder aloud why this wasn’t addressed when the scandal with Dr. Nobles broke. I get shrugs and smirks.
When I suggest that the construction on campus may have overextended the finances, I get a lot of nods in agreement. But MC insists that these are two separate issues. I guess no one noticed the hole in the operational bucket while the building bucket was filling up.
As I talk to citizens, alumni, faculty, staff, and even students, I get the same negative impression. Maybe I haven’t heard all points of view.
Alumni who were regular contributors stopped giving some time ago. They got tired of being snubbed and ignored. Citizens have complained about the attitude of the administration. Faculty and staff are offended when the president passes them without so much as a good morning. And students joke about the perceived rift between the president and a prominent contributor.
I understand that Mississippi College is suffering a financial crisis, but I don’t think there would even be a problem if the present administration had approached the situation differently.
Maybe, just maybe, there would have been money if more attention had been paid to the alumni. Maybe, just maybe, faculty and staff would have gladly sacrificed if their needs had been met, if they had been treated fairly and respectfully, if they had been included in the process. Maybe, just maybe, students would feel reassured if they had also been included and treated as adults.
Maybe, just maybe, the citizens of Clinton wouldn’t be delighting in someone’s comeuppance if they had been treated respectfully, as well. And maybe, just maybe, the board of trustees would feel good about the situation if credit for all the changes had been shared equally.
Whew! That’s a lot of maybes.
I love Mississippi College, and I care deeply about the people who devote their lives to that school. And I know that this college and this city are forever linked. So, while I listen to the rumors, innuendos and plain, dirty insults, I hope for the shadows to pass.
Nancy Lottridge Anderson, CFA, is president of New Perspectives Inc. in Clinton, (601) 924-9828. Her e-mail address is NL2invest@aol.com and she’s online at www.newper.com.