Staff and students protest Mississippi chancellor choice

Flagship campus to be led by educator who advised on hiring and previously worked in schools with segregationist past

October 7, 2019

The University of Mississippi has amplified concerns about its commitment to moving past its racist history by using a secretive manoeuvre to choose a new leader.

Glenn Boyce, a former state higher education commissioner, was named chancellor of Mississippi’s flagship university via a press statement after dozens of protesters picketed the scheduled announcement.

Dr Boyce, who had been serving as a consultant in the search process, was chosen by the 12-member governing board of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning after it collapsed a scheduled two- to three-week series of candidate interviews down to two days.

The university’s student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, later reported that Dr Boyce, who has never served as a professor on a four-year campus, had previously worked as a sports coach at three white-majority private schools in black-majority communities.

His appointment was praised by Trent Lott, a former Republican leader of the US Senate and advocate of segregationist policies, who told The Clarion-Ledger newspaper that Dr Boyce “appears to be a good ol’ boy” – a term referring to a cultural white Southerner.

The scheduled public announcement of Dr Boyce’s appointment, at an on-campus hotel, was cancelled by the university’s police chief after the protesters besieged the site with signs and chants that included: “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

Dr Boyce had been hired by the university’s private foundation to aid in the search process after the previous chancellor, Jeffrey Vitter, resigned in January after less than three years in office.

The University of Mississippi, with some 23,000 students on its main campus in Oxford and its medical centre in Jackson, is facing problems that include shrinking enrolment and a persistent racial imbalance. Only about 14 per cent of its students are black, compared with 37 per cent of the state’s population.

University leaders also have refused demands from some students that they remove from the Oxford campus a statue of a Confederate soldier, while facing pushback from others in the state who feel that they have gone too far with efforts to investigate and publicise the institution’s long history of racial prejudice and violence.

The academies where Dr Boyce worked, The Daily Mississippian reported, are part of a network of private schools founded after the US Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v Board of Education that outlawed explicit racial segregation in public schools.

Students and faculty were among the protesters at the planned announcement of Dr Boyce’s selection who berated the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning. Some faculty chosen to advise the search process described themselves as surprised by the selection of someone outside the list of known candidates.

But Bradford Dye, the vice-president of the board of trustees and chair of its search committee, said Dr Boyce emerged in the search process because various parties – including faculty, students and alumni – said that they wanted an experienced leader “who knows and understands our state”.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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