Protesters shout down Ole Miss chancellor announcement

OXFORD, Miss. — Mississippi’s former higher education commissioner will be the next chancellor of the University of Mississippi despite protesters shouting down his announcement ceremony.

College Board trustees announced by news release Friday that they had voted unanimously to appoint Glenn Boyce to the post, even as protesters claimed the move to short-circuit the remainder of the selection process proved trustees were corrupt.

After pleading for civility, trustee Ford Dye retreated from an on-campus hotel ballroom in Oxford, as protesters refused to be silent. After police wrestled one student out of the room to chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” the university’s police chief announced the event was canceled.

Glenn Boyce (AP photo)

The choice of Boyce, 61, brings to a close a politically sensitive search for a new leader of Ole Miss after former Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter resigned in January after less than three years on the job at one of Mississippi’s two largest universities.

Boyce was involved in the search earlier after the university’s private foundation hired him to meet with influential individuals about what they sought in the next Ole Miss leader. At the time, Boyce denied he was seeking the job, but some people spoke out during the search against speculation that the board would choose him in the end.

Ole Miss has more than 23,000 students between its Oxford campus and the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. The medical center alone has more than 10,000 employees and a budget of more than $1 billion.

The next chancellor will face several challenges. Among the difficulties, Boyce will inherit declining enrollment, flagging fundraising and an ailing football team. Also looming over the incoming leader is the ongoing struggle over how the university should deal with the symbolism of the Confederacy and white supremacy, including a statue of a Confederate soldier on the Oxford campus that administrators are trying to relocate to a less prominent location. Some conservative alumni have been calling for a chancellor who would quell liberal tendencies on campus.

Boyce became Mississippi’s higher education commissioner in 2015 when the College Board trustees who oversee the state’s eight public universities were in a similar jam in seeking a leader. After choosing Mississippi University for Women President Jim Borsig as commissioner, Borsig had backed out and instead returned to lead that university. Boyce had been working for the board as associate commissioner for academic affairs for less than a year at the time. Boyce retired from the commissioner’s position in June 2018.

Boyce has never been a professor on a four-year campus, and it’s unclear how he will be received by faculty and other campus groups who had been warning against an inside hire. Some faculty members Thursday night were calling for protests on Twitter, but it was unclear if they would materialize. Trustees could have opted for further consultations with campus groups, but cut the interview process short.

Boyce served as president of central Mississippi’s Holmes Community College from 2005 to 2014, earlier leading efforts in workforce development for Holmes and serving as assistant superintendent and principal in the Rankin County school district in suburban Jackson. A native of New York state, Boyce has said he came to Mississippi to attend college at Ole Miss without even seeing the campus beforehand. After earning a master’s degree from Baptist-affiliated Mississippi College, he returned to Ole Miss to earn a doctorate in education leadership.

A computer scientist, Vitter was provost at the University of Kansas when he was chosen for the Ole Miss post in October 2015. He began work in 2016 and was paid $600,000 a year. After stepping down in January, Vitter remained as a distinguished professor in the School of Engineering. Larry Sparks, who was in charge of finance and administration, has been serving as interim chancellor.

Trustees refused to renew the contract of the previous chancellor, Dan Jones, citing disagreements over financial management at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. That decision sparked widespread protest.

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