About two dozen students are lying on the floor in the lobby of the student union, writing signs. They are for tomorrow’s rally at noon in front of the Lyceum. That’s the storied building that houses the brass of the University of Mississippi’s administration, Chancellor Dan Jones included.
Phillip Waller is a senior, studying Journalism and Public Policy and Leadership. He’s one of the organizers of the grassroots movement “Students for Chancellor Jones” – the group behind the rally.
“Well, honestly, a lot of us are shocked,” said Waller. “This blindsided us. We couldn’t believe that a chancellor that has given so much to this university and made the university succeed in so many ways was unceremoniously dumped."
Several initiatives are underway to pressure the IHL into reversing its decision. An online petition on change.org has so far garnered more than 6,000 signatures, the university faculty senate is voting tonight on a resolution, while State Representative Steve Holland is working to get a resolution passed in the Mississippi legislature. In Jackson yesterday, some 60 Ole Miss students and faculty members showed up for the latest IHL meeting. Public Policy Leadership student Sarah Stewart from Oxford was one of them.
“Losing Dr. Jones’s presence on campus – I think there would be a general morose feeling on campus. It would be like we had lost, you know, a member of our family," Stewart said.
Meanwhile, big money is making noise, too. The school’s two biggest donors, the Barksdale family and the Gertrude Ford Foundation have both sharply condemned the ousting of Jones. But Tom Papa, president of the Ford Foundation, went a step further, threatening financial consequences that would scupper plans for a science center he had previously promised the chancellor.
"If he’s gone, we’re gonna renege on that agreement. There is no way we’re going to give that $20 million without Dr. Jones being chancellor at Ole Miss," Papa said.
The IHL for its part has been slow in its explanations, simply referring to financial issues at the University of Mississippi Medical Center that apparently the Chancellor did not address to the Board’s satisfaction. At yesterday’s IHL meeting board member Alan Perry explained his vote against Jones.
“What we are talking about is inefficiency and ineffectiveness," Perry said. "And I would think that it needed a different structure that is more responsible to the business realities of the day, and an accounting and financial staff that really works better within modern business.”
It’s a charge that makes Ole Miss Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat bristle. After all, Jones was his appointment as vice-chancellor for UMMC and Khayat credits him with turning around the medical center, bringing it to profitability and prestige.
“The action of the Board is egregious and I think is a terrible mistake and I think that they owe the state a reversal of that decision because this is the kind of decision-making that has placed Mississippi in place number 50 among the other states," Khayat said.
Since his retirement in 2009, Khayat has never commented publicly on university business so as not to undermine his successor. But now is not the time to stay mum, he says.
“The recent action of the College Board absolutely demands – morally requires me to comment on it because I have some experience as chancellor, and experience with the Board, and I have 20 years experience of knowing Dan Jones.”
Meanwhile, Chancellor Jones, back on the job for barely a week after months of grueling cancer treatment that has left him bald and without eyelashes, is sad but restrained:
"My strong desire is for the university to prosper and do well after I leave and I want a good chancellor to follow me. I had the luxury, the great privilege to follow a great chancellor and I’d love for another good chancellor to follow me and my work.”
But not so fast say the students back in the student union.
Based on facebook replies, organizers expect a strong turnout for their rally tomorrow. One thing is clear, the unrest at Ole Miss is far from over.