Dan Jones just lost his battle with the cancer that is our state government. Last night, the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Directors decided to stand by their decision for non-renewal of his contract as Chancellor of the University of Mississippi.
IHL took a tremendous amount of heat all weekend long for their decision last Friday. Yesterday, they decided to hold their ground but not before throwing Gov. Bryant under the bus. Aubrey Patterson, IHL Board President, admitted the primary reason for letting Jones go was concern over Medicaid reimbursements and sources of revenue that Patterson said were under “threat of deterioration.” No doubt, Patterson was speaking specifically to the Affordable Care Act.
The management team Dan Jones had put in place at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson has worked hard to register Mississippi’s uninsured with the A.C.A., or “Obamacare” as the governor calls it. Jones saw the A.C.A. as a way to increase revenue for UMMC. The governor and the interests he represents were none to happy about it.
The four Bryant appointees to the IHL Board were on a mission: to rid the governor of this meddlesome chancellor. Still, our governor tried to distance himself from the IHL decision. Bryant’s staff, who had obviously been reading all the angry internet chatter, quickly released a statement concerning the termination. The statement said Gov. Bryant had nothing to do with it while coming just short of suggesting that Bryant probably couldn’t even spell I-H-L.
Folks like former Chancellor Robert Khayat and rich and famous Ole Miss supporters like Jim Barksdale, Archie Manning, and John Grisham are furious with IHL’s decision to terminate Jones and were at yesterday’s meeting to voice their displeasure. These men and others who “Stand with Dan” can make it very difficult for the governor and the IHL Board. It remains to be seen, however, whether anyone will actually pay a political price, particularly when it comes to statewide elections this fall.
The Democratic Party in Mississippi was eager to place all of the blame for Jones’s termination at Gov. Bryant’s feet. IHL basically did that for them. Democrats now hope Ole Miss alums and grads will take their anger over Dr. Dan’s dismissal out on the state’s Republican leadership.
Don’t bet on it, lofty-minded liberals. There are a whole host of Ole Miss fans and Bryant supporters who also hate “Obamacare.” Most of them never attended Ole Miss but yet they love her dearly. These loyal fans and voters love her for the old south traditions she has long promoted, like singing “Dixie,” waving the Rebel Flag, walking into buildings named for white supremacists… celebrating things like good manners, buckwheat cakes, and the virtues of the old plantation system.
Those folks are happy to see Obama-lover Dan Jones out. They eagerly wait for some Confederate-Hat-Wearing, “Backwards Rebel” to take the reigns of their dear Ole Miss. For them, the IHL decision is an answered prayer.
The other five IHL Board members who voted for non-renewal were all appointed by former Gov. Haley Barbour, who’s silence over the weekend spoke volumes. Nothing of this magnitude happens in Mississippi without Lord Barbour’s knowledge, if not his blessing. Don’t be surprised if Lord Barbour’s is the first name IHL trots out as the potential next chancellor to heal the open wound hemorrhaging Rebel Red all over the Grove.
While many will continue to “Stand with Dan” and fight for reinstatement, expect Dr. Jones to bow out of this mess gracefully for the good of the university. He’s been a good and faithful servant to the institution and to our much maligned and neglected healthcare system. While he well may have been a bit pious and prickly, he proved a superb chancellor and leader.
Former Chancellor Khayat had a dream to bring the university into the current century. Jones made it happen with record enrollment and fundraising, faculty recruitment, and a host of outreach and service programs that have created a stronger, more inclusive campus. Again, Jones has striven to do what is right and his focus has been on educating students. He can walk away with his head held high. No need for him to continue battling both his own cancer and the one infecting our state.
Khayat called the dismissal “evil.” He even called for the dismantling of IHL. There’s a thought. Perhaps some good can come from this travesty. Even Gov. Bryant, trying to save a little of that handsome face of his, suggested the IHL system could be due for an “overhaul.”
It might just be better to disband this useless, overpriced, political-payout program that has done nothing to make our state’s education system any better. It is a unique animal: Unicornesque, in fact. Board members are appointed for nine years as payback for campaign contributions. After IHL receives their legislative appropriations, they answer to no one. They can manipulate institutional budgets however they please with no oversight. Their offices produce no revenue for the state. IHL is supposed to lobby to meet the needs of all our universities, instead IHL lobbies for itself.
As a result, state universities have seen their tuition costs soar as state support for higher education dwindles. IHL plays the game as if higher education were more about the pursuit of dollars as opposed to the pursuit of knowledge. They have forced universities to release full professors in favor of much cheaper adjuncts. Liberal arts programs that encourage students to think for themselves are being gutted. Campuses are made to produce worker drones, not thinkers. University presidents are no longer educators. They are brainless administrators and political hacks. As a result those high-minded, egg-headed professorial types and trouble makers will soon fade from our college campuses in Mississippi. IHL is banking on it.
IHL is aware of the anti-intellectual and backward-thinking makeup of the state’s elected leadership and a sadly significant portion of our electorate. They’ll gladly take the heat over firing Chancellor Jones for a few months. It’s not like any of them will lose their cushy appointments. Again, these are nine year appointments. Nine years!
They know the majority of Mississippi voters won’t remember who Dan Jones is by summer time. And even those that might “Stand with Dan” now won’t think of him at all if the Rebels should have another great football season and their marching band plays “From Dixie with Love.”
» David Dallas is a political writer. He worked for former U.S. Sen. John Stennis and authored Barking Dawgs and A Gentleman from Mississippi.