JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The University of Mississippi’s new leader said Thursday that he respects the “free expression” of students and faculty who continue protesting the way a state board shortened its own search process in hiring him.
Chancellor Glenn Boyce began working Monday on the main Ole Miss campus in Oxford, and protesters marched to demand his resignation. The student senate voted this week to condemn a lack of transparency in the search process.
Boyce spoke briefly to The Associated Press after he left an Institutions of Higher Learning board meeting Thursday in Jackson. Asked about his first days on the job, Boyce said: “We’re a campus of free expression, and I respect that. Obviously, this is not the way I would have liked to have come in.”
“But,” he said, “I’m more excited about the future. I’m more excited about where the university’s going, what we are today, the achievements of today, where we’re headed tomorrow.”
He said he will meet people individually and in small groups.
“I’ll be highly visible,” Boyce said. “I’ll be supportive of students. I’ll be at their events. I’ll get to know my students.”
Boyce is a former IHL commissioner and was paid $87,000 by a university foundation to interview influential people about what qualities they wanted in a chancellor. He was hired despite not applying for the job. Campus police canceled the Oct. 4 news conference where the IHL board was supposed to announce its hiring of Boyce because protesters were chanting and holding signs. An officer picked up a student protester and removed her from the room .
More than 30 armed Capitol Police and Mississippi Highway Patrol officers were outside the board meeting Thursday in Jackson, where trustees met in closed session for more than two hours. When the session ended, board president Hal Parker left through a back door. Reporters followed him, but Parker would not answer questions about whether the board had discussed Boyce’s salary or other matters related to Boyce’s hiring.
IHL spokesman Caron Blanton said later that the board took no action on Boyce’s salary Thursday. The trustees also issued a statement Thursday night saying they had heard public concerns about the way Boyce was hired.
“We will review our search process to determine ways that it can be improved,” the board statement said. “It is unfortunate that the process has reflected negatively on the beginning of Dr. Boyce’s tenure, but we look forward to Ole Miss thriving under his leadership.”
Minutes from the Oct. 2 and 3 board meeting show that trustees voted to hire Boyce at a total salary of $800,000, split between state money and a supplement from the University of Mississippi Foundation.
AP obtained an email that was sent by Foundation CEO Wendell Weakley to board members. It shows the foundation is considering a request from Higher Education Commissioner Al Rankins and trustees to fund $500,000 of Boyce’s salary. Historically, foundations have paid no more than half of a university leader’s salary, so that, as Weakley put it, the leader wouldn’t appear more beholden to a foundation than the university itself. That changed this year when trustees gave Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum a $200,000 raise to $800,000 a year, with MSU’s foundation increasing its contribution from $300,000 to $500,000.
Weakley noted in his email that the Ole Miss foundation is also still paying a $300,000-a-year supplement to Jeffrey Vitter, the former chancellor who resigned at the start of the year after three years on the job.
Weakley also wrote that when the foundation agreed to pay Boyce for consulting work on the chancellor’s search, there was no “indication Dr. Boyce was or would become a candidate for the chancellor’s position. In fact, it was just the opposite. If he was a possible candidate, the (trustees) should not have recommended him for the consulting work.”
Weakley wrote that it was “absolutely false” that the foundation had participated in any effort to “back door” Boyce into the job. Weakley didn’t immediately respond Thursday to a phone call and an email seeking comment.