On June 30th 2009, when I retired as Chancellor of The University of Mississippi, I made a commitment to avoid any public comments regarding the IHL Board, Ole Miss, our Medical Center, and the other universities in the state. I moved my office off campus to the UM Foundation which I used infrequently. I have tried to stay out of the way.
However, as one who served for 14 years as Chancellor I feel morally bound to comment on the IIHL Board’s decision regarding the non-renewal of the contract of Chancellor Dan Jones. I believe the Board’s decision in this matter is egregious and a major mistake.
Sam Hall’s editorial in the Sunday opinion section of The Clarion-Ledger tells most of the story. I thank and commend him for candidly and courageously expressing his thoughts and stating facts regarding the quality of leadership provided by Chancellor Jones for six years. However, I need to clarify one point. Sam Hall and others think that I anointed Dan Jones as my successor. That simply is not the truth.
When asked by friends and Ole Miss alumni if I thought Dan Jones could “do the job” my answer was yes. I can, without hesitation, say my answer was correct. Dan has not only done the job, he has provided enlightened, courageous leadership and moved the university, including the Medical Center, to levels of performance and respect never before reached.
Any objective measure of the movement forward and upward of the University under his leadership demonstrates the remarkable progress our university has made. A university leader must have integrity, vision, courage, a strong staff, and a thick skin. Chancellor Jones has those positive qualities and others. He and First Lady Lydia Jones have given the last six years of their lives to Ole Miss and to Mississippi.
Since the Board press release laid the decision on “concerns about the Medical Center” it may be helpful if I provide a little information on that subject. When I appointed – and the IHL Board approved – Dan as Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs and Dean of the School of Medicine, he confronted great challenges in the UMMC Hospital. The physical facilities needed attention, and morale and the reputation of the Center were dire. Dan immediately selected a management team, a new director of the hospital, and led a change in the culture from acceptance of mediocrity (or worse) to aspirations to become excellent and nationally respected. From the financial difficulties and quality of health care and research he inherited, he and his team changed the culture, balanced the books, became profitable, and sailed through at least two independent audits ordered by the Board.
The truth is that former Commissioner Hank Bounds (now moved to Nebraska) and then Vice Chancellor Jones disagreed about management of the Medical Center. Hank, an Education major, did not have the background and experience to begin to understand the Medical Center. And to be fair I must tell you that not a single Chancellor, including me, other than Dan Jones ever fully understood the intricacies of the operation of the complex world of medicine.
I spent one day a week at UMMC for 14 years and have, at best, a superficial understanding of the Center. Dr. Jones is the only Chancellor in my lifetime who understands the medical center. And the Medical Center prospered under his leadership.
Perhaps this insensitive deed – clearly motivated by personal and/or political reasons and not on performance – will prompt someone in a leadership position to initiate a move to transform the current dysfunctional and wasteful IHL system and authorize each university to have its own board.
Clearly the current model is a failure.
Robert C. Khayat is Chancellor Emeritus of the University of Mississippi.