USM Update: New Commissioner, No More Chief Operating Officer
Since the fateful announcement on May 19, that President Shelby F. Thames was being limited to 2 more years in office, it's been fairly quiet at the University of Southern Mississippi. There has been little to report since the delayed revelation of Thames' total expenditures on his futile effort to fire Frank Glamser and Gary Stinger.
At the end of May, the summer school session opened with a major scheduling snafu, occasioned by Associate Provost Cynthia Moore's insistence on using unnecessary scheduling software and waiting till the last minute to make room assignments. And the second annual MIDAS awards, cash bonuses given to researchers who get grants that"buy out" part of their teaching time, led to a minor flap at the end of June. (I may return to this incentive program, a brainchild of Shelby Thames that has few counterparts anywhere else, in another entry.)
On July 6, a bite was taken out of another member of Shelby Thames' henchcrew, Ken Malone. Among the shifting and mutating array of appointments that Malone has held, a major source of power was his Provost-like control over the Gulf Park satellite campus, where his official title was Chief Operating Officer. As per the university press release:
After serving as chief operating officer for The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast campus for the last year and a half, Dr. Ken Malone is leaving that position to focus on his duties as chair of the Department of Economic and Workforce Development.
Malone will be replaced by an Associate Provost. He was a hired as a less than half-time Department Chair, with a salary of $49,500 a year, and as a less than half-time Chief Operating Officer, also with a salary of $49,500, so no Board approval of his appointment would be required--the threshold is $50K. But there has been no announcement that his salary is being cut by $49,500...
In the judgment of sources on the USM campus, Malone's mismanagement of the Gulf Park facility and his long string of unflattering stories in the press made him vulnerable to remaining rivals on the henchcrew, particularly Joan Exline, who is in charge of accreditation, and Cynthia Moore. It is to be hoped that he will return to the chemical industry well before Shelby Thames' term in office expires in May 2007.
Today's big news comes out of the monthly meeting of the Mississippi IHL Board of Trustees, which controls USM along with 7 other state unversities. A new IHL Commissioner has been urgently needed to replace Richard Crofts, who came out of retirement to serve on an interim basis and is due to leave in December. The Board chose Tom Meredith, who is currently the Chancellor of the Georgia state system. Meredith, not so coincidentally, led a workshop for the Board in February--on the topic of a strong-commissioner model for system boards of trustees. His attitude toward USM is, at present, unknown, but the initial expectation is for him to continue Crofts' policy of keeping Shelby Thames on a short leash. Meredith has a track record of siding with university presidents against sports boosters; considering that USM athletic supporters demanded the removal of Horace Fleming in 2001 and played a substantial role in the coronation of Shelby Thames in 2002, this is a positive sign. Whether he will tend to privilege the Univesity of Mississippi and Mississippi State over USM remains to be seen.
Meredith is almost certainly a big improvement on Eric Clark, Mississippi's Secretary of State, who was reportedly being considered by the Board, but according to a story in Tuesday's Jackson Clarion-Ledger, did not end up being interviewed for the position. Putting a professional politician in charge of Mississippi's state universities would not help USM solve its problems, and could easily exacerbate them.
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