At USM It Never Lets Up
Shelby Thames, the President of the University of Southern Mississippi, is losing no chance to keep his institution in crisis, or guarantee close media attention to its troubles.
On Monday, May 3, Thames called a breakfast meeting with the 5 academic deans and the dean of the library. The announced agenda was to"improve communication" with faculty, staff, and students, in the wake of 2 years of conflict and the crisis that Thames ignited when he fired two senior professors on March 5.
But there never has been any problem of communication under the Thames administration. Thames has no difficulty ensuring that everyone knows which arbitrary commands he wants them to follow. And he has no interest in anything they might wish to say back, unless it's"Yes, sir!" It's also characteristic that the Monday meeting did not include either the Hattiesburg-based Provost, Tim Hudson, or the Provost at the Gulf Coast satellite campus, Jay Grimes. Thames has no use for a Chief Academic Officer standing in the way of direct communication him and the deans. Presumably only issues of convenience prevent him from giving marching orders straight to 40 department chairs, or even to 540 professors.
What Thames really did on Monday was ordain the formation of a President's University Council, whose 18 members would be selected by the deans. The deans, in turn, are frightened that they will be fired should they do the slightest thing to displease Thames. (Just last Friday they were reminded that they were being"grossly insubordinate" on account of their worries about violating the state Freedom of Information Act by failing to turn over information about merit raises to the Faculty Senate.) If the deans can find them, they will obligingly select people who will represent Shelby Thames to the faculty, staff, and students--not people who will represent the faculty, staff, or students to the upper administration. And if they can't find willing representatives of the Thames administration... no doubt their failure will also be taken as gross insubordination.
Once he has his President's University Council in place, Thames will be able to pronounce the Faculty Senate, the Academic Council, the Graduate Council and other such faculty bodies superfluous, and either go around them or declare them disbanded. Since the PUC is also slated to include student"representatives," he can also be rid of the Student Government, should it ever be jolted out of its current placid compliance with his dictates.
The Thames regime has now thoroughly antagonized the media in Mississippi. The Hattiesburg American (a newspaper in the Gannett chain, whose papers suck up notoriously to the local establishment in their respective markets) has filed a state Freedom of Information Act request for the names of everyone whose email the Thames administration has put under surveillance.
Anything approaching a truthful answer to that question would further undermine Thames' credibilty. In his testimony during the hearing on April 28, Thames claimed that he had ordered the email of Professors Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer monitored starting on January 16, 2004, after TV station WDAM got wind that there was something irregular with the credentials of his Vice President for Research, Angie Dvorak. But during the hearing he produced printouts of Stringer's email going as far back as May 2003. And informed sources at USM have charged that at least Stringer's email was already being monitored as far back as the summer of 2003. Indeed, they say that Dvorak herself was in charge of the monitoring, which was carried out, not by the regular Information Technology staff at USM, but by employees at Pileum Corporation, an outfit to which some USM iTech functions have been contracted out. The President of Pileum, Jill Beneke, sat close by as Thames read aloud from intercepted emails during the hearing last week.
Of course, credulous employees and students of USM might be reassured by the email that was broadcast to them today:
The University of Southern Mississippi has more than 12,000 e-mails per day pass through our technology system. iTech, the university's technology support division, does not monitor e-mails. The e-mails monitored for the hearing were done so in accordance with university policy and state law. The monitoring was limited in its scope and time. No monitoring is occurring at this time. We encourage faculty, staff and students to review the university's information technology use and security policy, which can be accessed at http://www.usm.edu/infosec/policy.
That information technology use and security policy allows the administration to read anyone's email at any time for any reason--and does not require them to announce that they are doing it.
What's more, newspapers in other parts of Mississippi are starting to weigh in. The Greenwood, MS paper ran an editorial today that questioned the leadership of Thames and his henchcrew.
Meanwhile, according to records meticulously maintained by a contributor at the Fire Shelby message board, 43 members of the faculty have left USM during the past academic year, or will be leaving as it ends, 17 of them to retirement. Some of them have come out in public and cited the Thames adminstration as their prime motive for leaving. And 16 administrators are leaving, 4 to retirement; they include 3 key players in Financial Affairs, whom Thames is believed to have forced out.
Will Thames fulfill the longings of his backers, and remain in office so he can fire more tenured faculty, and disband the Faculty Senate? Or has he already inflicted enough damage to weary the patience of the Mississippi College Board, to whom he reports?
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