JACKSON — Acting state Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Borsig said there’s no connection between his decision to step away from the job and tumultuous talks he led about the University of Mississippi chancellor’s contract.
Borsig announced Thursday that he wants to remain president of Mississippi University for Women rather than lead the state’s system of eight public universities. He has been acting commissioner the past several weeks and was set to officially take over the job April 15.
In a phone interview with The Associated Press shortly after his announcement in Columbus, Borsig said he has dealt with difficult situations in the past and the recent negotiations over University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones’ contract are “absolutely not” connected to his own career decision.
“Over my 30 year career, I have dealt with hard things and controversy,” Borsig, 58, told the AP. “That is just a part of a job every now and then, but it’s not connected.”
In recent weeks, Borsig had tried to broker a deal between the 12 member College Board and Jones after the board said it wouldn’t renew Jones’ contract that expires in mid-September. The March 20 announcement about Jones’ contract was met by days of public protests from OIe Miss students, faculty and alumni who wanted him to remain on the job.
Borsig met privately with Jones and College Board members about the possibility of a new contract for the chancellor, but both sides announced April 2 that no agreement was reached and the board would start searching for a new chancellor.
Borsig said he has strong working relationships with Jones and with College Board members. Asked about the negotiations over Jones’ contract, Borsig said Thursday: “Those discussions were held out of the glare of the media, and I’m not going to talk about what was in those discussions.”
Borsig has continued to receive his $235,000 salary as MUW president as acting commissioner the past several weeks. The commissioner’s salary is $358,313, and Borsig acknowledged some people might question why he would pass up a job with substantially higher pay. He said students’ lives are transformed on a college campus and he enjoys being part of that process.
“You don’t make the decision overnight and easily,” Borsig told the AP. “But, after prayer and reflection, I came to the unwavering conviction at this point in my life, at this point in my career, that I am called to serve as president of this university.”
Borsig said the College Board did not ask him to leave and the decision was his alone. The board will have to approve his plan to remain at MUW, where he has been president since January 2012.
Board President Aubrey Patterson of Tupelo said in a news release Thursday that he and other board members are grateful for Borsig’s work at MUW and as acting commissioner.
“He has been an outstanding president at MUW, and we respect his desire to remain in this role,” Patterson said.
The chairman of the state Senate Universities and Colleges Committee, Republican John Polk of Hattiesburg, said in a phone interview that he was surprised by Borsig’s decision.
“It’s a shame that the board will have to start looking for a new commissioner now,” Polk said. “That will take time.”