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A Q&A: Borsig says he never planned on leading university system

Dr. Jim Borsig

Dr. Jim Borsig

JACKSON — Jim Borsig is the ultimate insider, having worked at three of Mississippi’s eight public universities. He also served as an associate commissioner on the College Board’s staff before becoming president of the Mississippi University for Women in Columbus in 2012.

The board on Thursday named Borsig as higher education commissioner for the state’s public universities beginning April 15. He’ll replace Hank Bounds, who’s leaving to become the president of the University of Nebraska.

In an interview after he was named, the 58-year-old talked about how the board asked him to interview without an extensive search, getting the eight universities to work together to improve Mississippi, and finding the money to meet those ambitions and hold down tuition.

AP: When you went to Columbus, was it always in the back of your mind that maybe you were coming back?

Borsig: It was never in the back of my mind that I was coming back. I’m a little bit older than the commissioner (Bounds). It never occurred to me he wouldn’t be here as commissioner. It was not an aspiration or a career path. It’s an opportunity you can’t plan for even if it were one.

AP: What do you think is the biggest opportunity you can focus on as commissioner?

Borsig: We have eight great universities that have distinct missions and they’re moving the needle in different regions of the state, as well as regionally and nationally for our research universities. And I think finding ways to harness those efforts around the issues facing the state of Mississippi, and about educating Mississippians is really the answer to most questions. Education is the answer to most problems in Mississippi and our eight universities are committed to that purpose.

AP: When you worked at the College Board before, you were in charge of dealing with the Legislature and the governor. How do you think you’re going to approach trying to meet the financial needs of the system?

Borsig: The only thing that I’ve seen work has been to clearly articulate opportunities and articulate needs and then ask for the state of Mississippi to invest in those needs. Commissioner Bounds has used, during this session, the great analogy, I think, that really sums this up. Higher education is an investment. There are certain things this state does, like corrections, that I would view as an expense. But we’re investing in our people, which ends up making the state more resilient, it ends up making individuals and families more resilient. And I think as we continue to get better at telling the story and articulating those things, we will build support, not just raising money from the Legislature in the appropriations process. Good ideas attract money, and this system is full of good ideas.

AP: The system’s institutions have had to raise tuition at a rate that far exceeds the growth of family income or inflation because of a decline in state support. What do you say to people about that?

Borsig: The answer to that is to continue to increase state support. And I would give the Legislature and the state of Mississippi credit, because a year ago, the Legislature gave our institutions one of the highest percentage increases in the country. We’re the only system of higher education in the country with a three-year capital improvement bond bill. We’ve got to return to pre-recession levels of appropriation. Those increases in tuition, I think they correlate to the downturn in the economy. All state agencies including higher education felt the bite of the recession. So I think it’s a combination of factors. We’ve had a strong commitment here to efficiencies, and I think we’ve demonstrated the ability to save money and be smart about what we do. This board is still committed to that and the universities are still committed to that.

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