Last Friday afternoon, the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Institutes of Higher Learning - better known as the much-maligned "IHL" - announced that the contract of Dr. Dan Jones, MD, Chancellor of the University of Mississippi, would not be renewed. Yesterday, the IHL explained their decision as one having almost exclusively to do with the financial situation of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, a situation that isn't generally agreed upon as being a bad one.
This decision is particularly tough to accept when considering the inarguable facts that Ole Miss, on the whole, is bigger, richer, and smarter than it has ever been, and that Dr. Jones is just over one week removed from his first day back on the job after finishing up chemotherapy treatments. When looking at his body of work or the context in which he succeeded, it really is difficult to craft a cogent argument as to why Dan Jones deserved this, especially if the argument you wish to make is that Dan Jones' leadership was overall bad for Ole Miss and, by extension, bad for the state of Mississippi.
I guess that much is evidenced by the IHL itself, being as they cited certain line-items in the medical school's budget to justify their decision during yesterday's board meeting, even while acknowledging that Chancellor Jones has done pretty damn well by Ole Miss.
All of this was quite upsetting to much of the Ole Miss family, with Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, statements from prominent alumni in support of Dr. Jones, threats to withhold eight-figure donations, and planned student-led demonstrations springing up throughout the weekend. We even spent half of this week's Podcast Rebellion discussing the ouster of Chancellor Jones and how absolutely baffling and surprising the entire situation is.
Surely, none of this is news to you by now, but perhaps you have some questions. Let me see if I can answer them.
So why is this so bothersome?
The unclear (and, frankly, non-urgent) reasoning and timing of the whole thing aside, Chancellor Jones' firing reeks of a pretty blatant power grab by the IHL. A common criticism of the IHL's decision is that it makes clear that they are more interested in having a "yes man/woman" in the Lyceum than someone like Dan Jones. It's important to remember that the budget for UMMC represents roughly 40% of higher education expenditures in Mississippi; it's not inconceivable to think that the IHL was not comfortable with the Chancellor of Ole Miss to have control over that much capital from his office in Oxford, even if if that is something that was both within the purview of Dan Jones' job description and something for which he, of all people, is uniquely qualified.
It is also bothersome that Ole Miss or a body made up of primarily "Ole Miss people" does not have this much say over the leadership of the University of Mississippi. The IHL, unlike other Boards of Trustees or Regents in public higher education, governs all of the public universities in Mississippi, and not just individual campuses or systems. This one board oversees Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Southern Miss, Jackson State, Alcorn State, Mississippi Valley State, Delta State, and the Mississippi University for Women. The IHL has been fairly commonly criticized by Ole Miss administrators and alumni as being a hindrance to the development of the university, a criticism that's pretty difficult to refute given the events of the past few days.
So does this mean they're going to get that "yes person?"
I don't see this playing out any other way. The IHL has made it pretty clear that they're willing to can the Chancellor of Ole Miss - and conceivably any leader in higher ed in Mississippi - if they're not willing to play by whatever rules the IHL sets forth. You could argue that that's their job (because it is), but it's common practice to give university leaders a good deal of autonomy. This decision makes it clear that Dan Jones' brand of autonomy was too much for the IHL to accept, and anyone who would consider the job has to be smart enough to know that.
Well what can we do about it?
The short answer is "nothing."
The long answer is a bit more interesting. Outside of Governor Phil Bryant intervening in the IHL's decision (he won't), the decision the board has made is binding. Simply put, Dr. Dan Jones will no longer be an employee of the State of Mississippi come September. Could Ole Miss rewrite bylaws and raise money to keep him on board? I guess it's conceivable, but I wouldn't bet on it. Could Ole Miss raise capital to go fully private, as has been proposed by leaders at the University of Oregon. Again, it's conceivable, but not likely.
And, if Ole Miss were to thumb its nose at the IHL and just continue to operate as if no decision had been made altogether, that would create a bit of a legal crisis - a Mexican standoff, even - where we'd probably find ourselves with the answer as to whether or not Ole Miss is too big to fail.
So, again, nothing.
What does this mean for athletics?
Just as with the university at large, the Ole Miss athletics programs are in remarkably good shape, with postseason appearances, top-25 rankings, all-Americans and facility upgrades having become the norm in Oxford over the past few seasons. A lot of this can be attributed to Dan Jones and Robert Khayat's successes as fundraisers, as well as Athletics Director Ross Bjork's more-than-exemplary leadership since he arrived in Oxford in 2012.
Bjork has been a vocal supporter of Dan Jones, and we have to think that this transition has him fairly worried. Just earlier this month, he turned down overtures from Missouri to serve as their AD, and now faces uncertainty as to who will overate over him through his fundraising and administrative efforts beginning next semester. I think we can all be very confident that no new chancellor is going to can or attempt to shake things up with Ross Bjork, but will he or she be able to lead the athletic side of the house when it is necessary to do so and get the hell out of Bjork's way when it isn't?
From all accounts, Jones doesn't feel the need to micromanage the goings on in the Manning Center, which Ross Bjork and the Ole Miss coaches all greatly appreciate. If that changes, will Ole Miss hold on to Ross Bjork much longer? Then would that replacement be able to sustain the success that Bjork has put into motion?
Wait a second, does this mean we're going to get Colonel Reb back?!
No. Shut up.