College board makes both shocking and expected decisions in its June meeting

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For a meeting that was without fanfare, there were more than a few things occurring that were quite noteworthy. As usual, the board met at 9 a.m. in the board room of the Universities Center on Ridgewood Road. Trustee Gregg Rader was the only member not physically present. He voted on every issue from his off-campus location. Although there were several important issues on the agenda, even with several impromptu congratulatory expressions made by three board members, the meeting ended shortly after 10 a.m.


By far, the biggest issue before the board, or at least the one that has drawn the most attention in the college community, was the proposal and vote to eliminate Delta State University’s College of Arts and Sciences, its Graduate and Honors Studies division, and 21 of the university’s academic degree programs.

There had been rumors floated that the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences had fallen out of favor with the board. There had been rumors floated that the downsizing was an efficiency matter, since DSU’s enrollment decline had been decisive and continuous. (In another questionable move, the board approved the hiring of a private firm, Ruffalo Noel Levitz, to assist DSU with recruitment and enrollment rather than addressing the problem through staff improvement. The private contract obviously takes away more valuable resources from the university.) There had also been rumors that the College of Arts and Sciences was considered too liberal or progressive. (It began a series of programs under President William LaFarge, which continued until the end of this year, that apparently flew in the face of current Republican ideology.) Regardless of which, if either, embodies the primary reason for the board’s action, it is important to report the eliminations and to raise questions about the eliminations.

It was ironic that the DSU matter was the first item on the Consent Agenda. Because it was on the Consent Agenda, there was no discussion. The measure passed unanimously. Apparently, the board had its mind made up some time ago. Indeed, there had been discussions on the DSU campus weeks earlier. 

Based upon the board’s vote, there will no longer be a (1) Bachelor of Arts in Art, (2) Bachelor of Arts in English, (3) Bachelor of Arts in History, (4) Bachelor of Arts in Music, (5) Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art, (6) Bachelor of Fine Arts in Digital Media Arts, (7) Bachelor of Music in Music, (8) Bachelor of Music Education in Music Education, (9) Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, (10) Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, (11) Bachelor of Business Administration and Finance, (12) Bachelor of Science in Education in English Education, (13) Bachelor of Science in Education in Health, Physical Education and Recreation, (14) Bachelor of Science in Education in Mathematics Education, (15) Bachelor of Science in Education in Social Studies Education, (16) Master of Education in Secondary Education, (17) Master of Arts in Studio Art, (18) Master of Accountancy, (19) Master of Science in Natural Science, (20) Education Specialist in Counseling, and (21) Education Specialist in Elementary Education.

This drastic cut in programs, especially including dropping the College of Arts and Sciences, calls into question DSU as a college, let alone a university. The elimination of five bachelor’s programs, cutting across virtually all of the subject-matter teaching fields, may also undercut the mission assigned to the institution when it was opened in 1924 as Delta State Teachers College. Hopefully, the institution will find ways to re-configurate rather than completely eliminate the programs.

Beyond DSU being perhaps permanently crippled, the nature of the decision and the seemingly cavalier manner in which it was made may communicate to the other universities, especially Mississippi University for Women (MUW) and Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU), that their future is not that secure. After all, during the last session, a bill was introduced to conduct a study that would lead to the closure of three of the state’s universities. Additionally, both MUW and MVSU have faced threats of being closed several times in the past.


In a move that stands in contrast to the cost-savings that may be experienced with the DSU program eliminations was the entry in the board minutes regarding the new contracts for the chancellor of the University of Mississippi and the president of Mississippi State University. Both individuals were given renewed, four-year contracts, paying them $500,000 from the IHL budget, plus $450,000 from their supporting foundations. There is also the possibility of their compensation going beyond the $950,000 salaries, based upon various and sundry services.

Having grown up in the Mississippi Delta in the 40s and 50s, it does not require much of an imagination to compare these compensation packages to what was paid to plantation overseers. These institution heads are paid such exorbitant salaries to “simply keep peace and order.” The teachers provide the instruction which turns out well-educated professionals. Professors and their staff engage in the research that keeps the lessons updated and brings in grant money from public and private sources. Students, faculty, and staff engage in community services that build up the community, winning friends and benefactors for the universities. The presidents and chancellors have large bureaucracies to help them make whatever decisions are left that may catch the public’s attention in either a positive or negative manner.

The “marginal” role played by the institutional heads can be realized by understanding how most universities sail along year after year, producing the same type and often same level of teaching, research, and services, regardless of who is the president. This is not to deny that occasionally the boards or presidents will make a policy change that alters the course of things. By and large, however, such is more reflective of the political climate than the “skills” of the institutional head.


Among the new institutions of higher learning trustee members was board member Jerry Griffith. Several weeks ago, when the new members were announced, several media outlets indicated that only Dr. Steven Cunningham was left as an HBCU alumnus. The media reported that Dr. Alfred McNair, who had graduated from Tougaloo College, which although it is private, is an HBCU, had rotated off the board. Dr. Ormella Cummings, who is African American, graduated from the University of Mississippi rather than an HBCU.

With the appointment of board member Griffith, the number of Africans is back up to three. Since he graduated from Delta State University, he is not an HBCU alumnus. Nevertheless, he did attend Jackson State University, as did many members of his family. Some college board observers will inevitably try and see if DSU or JSU will benefit from his presence on the board.


As usual, at the end of the academic year, the board listed the priorities which it will present to the next Mississippi legislature. (These priorities, however, are different from the priorities presented by the individual universities.) Not too surprisingly, the number one priority, which has been listed for years if not decades, was that of raising the salaries of the universities’ teachers to that of the other teachers in the southeastern United States. At the same time, it was made clear that they were nowhere that average nor to the average of teachers in the contiguous states. It was pointed out that Mississippi was in fact more than $1,000 below its nearest competitor, Arkansas.

In a bit of candor, it was indicated that the matter of reaching the southeastern average for teachers was like shooting at a moving target. Each time Mississippi makes a move, the other states do the same, keeping Mississippi’s in the same relative position. Obviously, the state’s leaders have not been as committed to keeping the teaching positions as competitive as they have to keeping the presidencies as competitive.

Other items on the list of priorities included increased contributions to the PEERS retirement fund, to maintenance operations funding, to the capital fund, and to the cost of inflation. In each case, it was pointed out that even where there had been some improvements, the legislature had never fully funded IHL’s priorities.


With added approvals for the legal representation of several universities in the system, it was obvious for all to see that the Butler Snow law firm is by far the favored one of IHL. It rakes in millions of dollars each year, with not much evidence of competitive bidding or an attempt to raise other firms to their level of public business.

Next week, we will look more closely at the budgets that were approved during the June meeting. For now, we will simply say that the rank order for IHL allocations to the individual universities were as usual. The University of Mississippi was at the top, followed by Mississippi State University. The University of Southern Mississippi was third. Those three “comprehensive” universities received the lion’s share of the money. Jackson State University came in fourth, followed by Alcorn State University. At the bottom were Delta State University, Mississippi University for Women, and Mississippi Valley State University, in that order.

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College board makes both shocking and expected decisions in its June meeting

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
June 30, 2024