Blogs > Liberty and Power > Faculty Complicity at the University of Southern Mississippi?

Aug 8, 2005 1:03 pm

Faculty Complicity at the University of Southern Mississippi?

Charles Nuckolls recently declared that without the complicity of the faculty at the University of Southern Mississippi, Shelby F. Thames would no longer be President of that institution, and no one else would be tempted to emulate him by firing tenured faculty members for criticizing the administration.

I used to think that the high-handed actions Thames took against Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer back in March would be eagerly copied by power-hungry administrators at other universities. I am less inclined to think so now, for reasons I'll get into in a later post. In any event, Thames has not attempted to fire any tenured professors since the public hearing for Glamser and Stringer took place in April. And over the summer there were no new reported cases of Thames and henchcrew tampering with the one-year contracts (with the Institutions of Higher Learning Board) that all faculty members in the Mississippi state system must sign. It is true that just under a month ago a dean tried to fire a well-known professor who had already taken a job elsewhere and submitted his resignation from USM. But I'll have to get back to that transcendent piece of foolishness in another post, where I will also assess Thames' prospects in the extremely embarrassing lawsuit that he will be required to testify in next February.

And while I sympathize with Charles, and with everyone else who is frustrated that Thames remains in office, I do not agree with Charles' suggestion that Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer individually, or the professors at USM collectively, are to blame for perpetuating the Thames regime.

A colleague who used to work at USM, and wishes to remain anonymous, made these comments in response to the charge of faculty complicity:

Regarding the assertion that the USM faculty (oops, make that"Southern Miss" faculty, in accordance with official university nomenclature, via a memo to all faculty and staff) shares some kind of" complicity" in the administration's assault on tenure, it's worth noting the following:
  • Faculty (and staff) report to the Mississippi IHL Board, which has consistently ignored all local input, and has made it clear that they have responsibility for all personnel decisions.
  • During the [2001-2002] presidential search, Shelby Thames went from participating on the search committee to being a candidate. This clear conflict of interest was ignored by the IHL.
  • When the presidential search revealed that one of the hand-recruited candidates produced by the IHL's Dallas headhunter"was honored, but had no interest in the USM position," faculty requested that an in-house candidate be added to the list of finalists, so there would be four"viable" presidential candidates. This request was ignored by the IHL Board.
  • During the final interviews, campus staff members (and the Staff Council) were reluctant to provide comment, because they could be terminated for no reason. The USM AAUP chapter and the Faculty Senate, laboring under the (mistaken) perception that tenure provided protection against termination for espousing"unpopular" opinions, decided to poll faculty on their perceptions of the three presidential candidates; a post-interview poll of all three candidates provided an 87 percent"disapproval" rating for Shelby Thames.
  • In the Glamser/Stringer hearings [April 28, 2004], despite the overwhelming lack of evidence to support Thames' intention to fire two tenured faculty members, it became clear that these public hearings were only advisory, and that the IHL Board could ignore any decision of Judge Anderson.
  • Furthermore, it became clear that the Roy Klumb faction intended to overturn the hearing results, and continue with termination of these two faculty members -- under those conditions, was it surprising that Glamser and Stringer accepted the deal?
  • When you've got a state judicial system determined to ignore the Faculty Handbook, established IHL standards for" contumacious conduct," and the rules of evidence, then it should come as no surprise that faculty are no longer willing to stand and be counted.

I agree wholeheartedly with this analysis. The settlement that Glamser and Stringer agreed to --the gag order, the forced retirement in two years--was indeed a crock. But knowledgeable observers say that G and S were told that if they did not accept it, the IHL Board would uphold Thames' decision to fire them. And about IHL Board President Roy Klumb's determination to keep Shelby Thames in power, there can be no doubt--Klumb has repeatedly affirmed it in public.

Let's keep in mind that in addition to alienating nearly the entire faculty at USM, Thames has neglected fundraising, driven away influential donors, been ordered to jettison two of his top operatives and drastically reduce the authority of a third, forfeited the support of the editorial board at the local newspaper, and kept on bloviating about"world class" status while USM dropped into the fourth tier of the US News rankings. These are derelictions that would induce the least faculty-friendly of governing boards to fire a president. They lend support to the theory that Thames was put in place to break USM down.

Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer could not oust Shelby Thames on their own. They were under no obligation to get themselves fired by a Board of Trustees that was hell-bent on keeping Shelby Thames in power. If they ever committed an act of complicity with the Thames regime, I have yet to see evidence of it.

We can certainly talk about the kinds of tactics that would be most effective in the desperate situation that USM's faculty now find themselves in. But those who curry favor with the Thames regime appear to me to be a small minority among the faculty, and those want rid of him but think they can get somewhere by negotiating with him are even fewer. Shelby Thames has not remained in office because of complicity by the faculty. He would never have had a career in administration without an utter failure of management by a former president. He became president and remains president because the fix is in, among political appointees who serve 12-year terms with virtually no oversight. Are the faculty complicit in Roy Klumb's reign over the state universities of Mississippi?

For updates, check the message board of the AAUP chapter at USM. The chapter decided to shut down its main web page but keep the board, so now you have to access the message board directly.

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David T. Beito - 10/3/2004

Weren't these guys near retirement. If so, what would being fired have meant to them especially if they were vested in their retirement funds?

It seems to me that a good strategy for conservative/libertarian faculty is to build good relationships with sympathetic state legislators and politicians as well as the alumni. Thus, when the hammer comes down, they can call on powerful outsiders who can actually exert leverage. This is easier said but done, of course.